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Sports governing bodies should review player protection measures

A recent US District Court decision emphasises the importance for sports governing bodies worldwide to ensure that robust and effective safeguarding measures are put in place to protect players and athletes from harm, an expert has said.

Julian Diaz-Rainey, commercial and sports disputes expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “The issue of liability is relevant to all governing bodies. Liability is set within the context of negligence and the need to establish that a duty of care has been breached. An issue in this case was whether reasonable care had been taken to prevent the abuse, and therefore whether the governing body was in breach of its duty.”

In this case, the US Tennis Association (USTA) was ordered to pay $9 million to professional tennis player Kylie McKenzie. McKenzie took action against the USTA over its failure to protect her from sexual abuse carried out by her coach at a Florida training centre.

The tennis pro alleged the coach touched her inappropriately in 2018. McKenzie was 19 years old at the time and had spent years training within schemes backed by the USTA. The organisation claimed to have consistently investigated accusations, taking disciplinary action when appropriate. However, McKenzie argued that it did not do enough to protect her.

“The case underscores the need for sports governing bodies to re-evaluate their safeguarding practices and policies. It is imperative that these organisations establish clear, robust protocols to prevent abuse,” said Diaz-Rainey.

This may include background checks and continued monitoring of coaches and other staff members, as well as providing an accessible and confidential reporting mechanism for athletes where they feel safe to speak out.

However, USTA is now looking to overturn decision, arguing that McKenzie fell short of her burden to prove that the association, in its capacity as tennis’ national governing body in the US, should have known the coach was a predator and did not take sufficient protective action.

USTA said that it did take “reasonable care” by “creating a safe and open environment” while reasonably supervising players. The organisation also stressed that it put protective polices in place, proactively notifying the public about coaches accused of any misconduct. 

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