Implementing ethical principles in sport: greater protection for athletes

Bern, 16.11.2021 - Ethical principles are to become more firmly anchored and strictly enforced in Switzerland’s sport system. They will be made legally binding, which will allow penalties to be imposed for violations. In addition, coordination between authorities and private associations will be subject to stricter rules, particularly to ensure closer supervision by the Confederation. Further measures include setting up an independent central reporting office, and increasing the involvement and raising the awareness of parents of children involved in competitive sports. This set of measures, the result of the investigation Federal Councillor Viola Amherd commissioned following incidents in rhythmic gymnastics, aims to protect athletes under the age of 18 in particular.

Allegations by former top artistic gymnasts of intimidation, humiliation and abuse at the Swiss Gymnastic Federation’s national performance centre in Magglingen repeatedly made headlines in summer and autumn 2020. Subsequently, Federal Councillor and Sports Minister Viola Amherd requested the Zurich law firm Rudin Cantieni Rechtsanwälte AG to investigate the matter, to expand the enquiry to cover other technical-compositional sport disciplines, and to propose measures that could prevent such incidents from occurring in Swiss sport in future.

This report shows that the existing structures – although largely working well – are insufficient with regard to the enforcement of ethical principles. Since one of the issues at stake is protecting young athletes, the state will strengthen its supervisory role in the future. At a joint press conference, Federal Councillor Viola Amherd, Matthias Remund, Director of the Federal Office of Sport FOSPO, and Jürg Stahl, President of Swiss Oympic, presented the approaches to be undertaken.

The comprehensive set of measures seeks to bring a cultural change in Swiss sport in order to strictly enforce ethical principles and include social developments at an early stage.

The focus lies on five lines of action:

1. Development of good governance in Swiss sport promotion

The Confederation, the cantons and private sport entities (Swiss Olympic) work closely together to promote sport in Switzerland. This cooperation must continue. It is important for structures based on voluntary work. The current cooperation, however, must be regulated in particular to guarantee the Confederation’s supervisory role, to prevent possible conflicts of interest and to achieve the desired cultural change. Various measures are planned in order to improve good governance; they will take effect from 2023.

• FOSPO will define good governance criteria for sports federations (criteria include transparent finances, up-to-date legal principles, balanced composition of management bodies). These criteria are included in the performance agreement with Swiss Olympic. FOSPO is the driving force behind and supervisor of the measures. In order to prevent possible conflicts of interest, the Confederation will withdraw its representative from the Executive Board of Swiss Olympic at the end of 2022. The current representative is the head of FOSPO.
• Using a new reporting and controlling system, as yet undeveloped, FOSPO will monitor compliance with the requirements. Swiss Olympic will do the same as regards the national sports federations.  
• Swiss Olympic will expand the sports classification system it uses to allocate financial support to include aspects such as the involvement of parents, good governance, ethics and prevention.
• The national sports federations will align their structures with the new requirements and report in accordance with the new controlling system.

2. Legal basis for enforcing the ethical principles

The sports federations will receive funds from the Confederation provided that they comply with the Ethics Charter. Violating the Charter can already lead to funding cuts. However, as practice has shown, the current Ethics Charter is not sufficiently legally binding. Therefore, the ethical principles are being made legally binding, together with the protection principles and control mechanisms. This creates an effective lever for enforcing the provisions that guarantee safety and fairness in sport.

• The Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport DDPS will submit a revised version of the Sport Promotion Ordinance to the Federal Council. The revision will specify the minimum requirements for safety and fairness in sport that federations must meet in order to be receive federal funding. Following a consultation process, implementation is planned for the beginning of 2023.
• Swiss Olympic is developing an ethics statute that will clearly specify practices that are not tolerated in sport. The statute will be submitted to the Swiss Sport Parliament in November 2021. It will have the character of disciplinary regulations; violations will be prosecuted and penalties will be imposed by the new Swiss Sport Integrity Foundation.

3. Swiss Sport Integrity (SSI) as an independent reporting office

Setting up a new independent reporting office is a significant component of the measures and preparations in this regard have been underway for quite some time. The Antidoping Switzerland Foundation, which operates independently and has efficient and recognised structures, will be reorganised and its purpose will be extended in order to deal with ethics violations.

• The Swiss Sport Integrity Foundation will be established on 1 January 2022 to replace the decentralised system of reporting offices used by the sports federations; the codes of conduct specific to each sport will also be replaced. The SSI will investigate reported violations independently and prepare final reports for the disciplinary committee. Legal provisions on the reporting office will also be introduced in the revised Sports Promotion Ordinance.

4. Models for encouraging children and adolescents

The basis for top performance at an international level is laid in childhood and adolescence. However, a child’s best interests must be the primary consideration, and hence it is essential that the support given to young talents by sports federations is of the highest quality. The measures will be implemented in 2022 and 2023.

• As part of the Magglingen training programme, FOSPO will teach coaches and Y+S squads the attitudes and values that form the ethical basis for developing young athletes. Specific modules to complement the current training programme are being developed.
• Swiss Olympic will set criteria for the child-orientated, healthy and safe development of young athletes. The sports federations will revise their strategies accordingly.
• Swiss Olympic will develop a prevention system that guarantees safety and health in sport.
• Swiss Olympic will conduct regular anonymous surveys among the persons involved in developing young talents (athletes, coaches, parents).

5. Close cooperation with parents

Parents play an important role in the development of young athletes in competitive sports. 

• FOSPO and Swiss Olympic have jointly developed the ‘Framework for Sport and Athletes’ Development Switzerland’ (FTEM Switzerland). This instrument, which covers all sports disciplines, provides guidelines for those involved, including parents. For this purpose, an additional ‘tool box’ will be developed by the end of 2022, enabling parents to support young top talents appropriately during their sporting careers.

Address for enquiries

Lorenz Frischknecht
Deputy Head of Communication / DDPS Spokesperson
+41 58 484 26 17

Swiss Olympic:
Alexander Wäfler
Head of Media and Information
+41 31 359 72 16


Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports

Federal Office of Sports