A Rugby League Youth Panel is actively campaigning to end sexual and gender based violence in sport as well as using the power of sport to highlight this problem and empower young people to keep themselves safe.

The #stop1in5 campaign has been set up by the young people (16-22 years) as part of the EU-funded project Sport Respects Your Rights (led by SPORTUNION Austria).

In collaboration with the Rugby Football League and the Lawn Tennis Association, Edge Hill University represents the UK as one of seven international project partners, led by the University’s Dr Mike Hartill who has conducted extensive research into the issue of child abuse in sport.

The project aims to develop capacity amongst young Europeans (16-22 years old) at grass roots sports level by empowering them against sexual exploitation and abuse. The young people are working together with educated leaders in their national networks to create youth-led campaigns and will become active agents of social change in their settings, encouraging peers and intermediaries to contribute to shaping a protective sports environment.

The UK young people received training in Austria from experts at the German Sports University, Cologne to learn more about the issue before disseminating their knowledge amongst their peers back in the UK.

This resulted in the Rugby League Youth Panel launching their #stop1in5 campaign earlier this year as part of the larger ‘One in Five’ campaign from the Council of Europe. Their campaign makes full use of social networking channels to communicate its powerful visual message. #stop1in5 wristbands have been produced, which the young people distributed at the recent Magic Weekend event at Manchester’s Etihad stadium. A Twitter hashtag and selfie hand signal campaign has also proved very successful (see @RLYouthPanel), with many well-known faces and sports personalities lending their support by using the hashtag or Tweeting a picture. Players Rangi Chase, Joshua Charnley, BBC Sport Presenter Tanya Arnold and Ray French MBE have all supported the campaign. Major sports agencies such as ENGSO Youth and the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit have also been very supportive of the young people’s efforts.

All four youth campaign ambassadors are involved with Rugby League regularly and are aged between 16-22 years old. They are assisted by Colette Eden (RFL Safeguarding Manager), Alex Davidson (Salford RL Player) alongside Dr Mike Hartill.

Dr Mike Hartill, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Sport said: “Within the department of Sport and Physical Activity we have been educating young people about abuse and child protection in sport for over a decade so it was fantastic to be invited by SPORTUNION Austria to do this on a wider scale and to share our expertise with other sports organisations throughout Europe. The RFL, the Lawn Tennis Association and the Edge Hill Students Union have all been tremendously supportive and are helping us to implement this project within the UK. The Rugby League Youth Panel was devised during a training workshop at Edge Hill and the progress they have already made has been inspiring. The hand signal campaign was the brainchild of Jamie Elkaleh and is now attracting attention and support from around Europe. It has got our campaign phase off to a great start and our teams are planning further events over the rest of the year. A key aspect of this project is that we want it to continue even after the European funding has ceased and the efforts of the Edge Hill Students’ Union president Gareth Dowling have been particularly important in this regard. Gareth is one of our team members and has been very supportive of the project since he attended a roundtable meeting in February along with other key supporting agencies such as Lancashire Police and the Child Protection in Sport Unit for England. Sexual violence is a problem that particularly effects young people. This project gives us the opportunity to educate young sportspeople about this problem but also to empower them to reach a broader group through their own creative impulses and initiatives. I hope that this will be a sustainable project that Edge Hill University can be proud of.”

For more information about the project – which has received financial support from the DAPHNE III Programme 2011/2012 of the European Union – please see https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/sport/research/research-projects/sport-respects-rights/ or email hartillm@edgehill.ac.uk

Facebook: Sport Respects Your Rights UK
Twitter: @SportRespect

If you are an Edge Hill University student who is interested in becoming involved please contact Gareth Dowling at the Students’ Union.

*The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Dr Mike Hartill and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.