Para athletes' perceptions of abuse: a qualitative study across three lower resourced countries

Br J Sports Med. 2022 May;56(10):561-567. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-104545. Epub 2022 Jan 10.


Objectives: Interpersonal violence is an increasingly recognised risk of sport participation and causally linked to negative physical and mental health outcomes. Para athletes from low- and middle-income countries may be at highest risk of physical, psychological, sexual and neglect-related violence due to various factors; however, their perceptions of these abusive behaviours are unknown. This study examined the perceptions and experiences of abuse in para athletes from three lower resourced countries: Ghana, India and Brazil.

Methods: Qualitative data from semistructured focus group interviews conducted with 26 individuals were collected to explore characteristics of abuse observed, navigated and experienced by para athletes. The framework method for multidisciplinary qualitative research guided data analysis.

Results: Athletes identified a wide range of abusive behaviours they experienced within and outside of sport, including psychological, emotional, physical, sexual and neglect-related violence, which operated on both interpersonal and systemic levels. Most athletes described three less easily recognised forms of abuse in greater detail and more frequently than others: financial abuse, neglect and disability stigma.

Conclusion: It is important to hear directly from athletes with diverse experiences and backgrounds and to integrate their insights and priorities into sport safeguarding policies, programmes and interventions. Understanding the requirements and challenges of para athletes and para sport is needed to achieve safe, equitable and inclusive sport. As new insights from diverse sport settings are added to the evidence base, globally balanced, athlete-generated and locally relevant preventative strategies can better protect all athletes.

Keywords: disability; interpersonal violence; paralympic; sexual abuse; sports.

MeSH terms

  • Athletes / psychology
  • Disabled Persons* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Para-Athletes*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sports* / psychology