Football & Sport

Football Onside is the first evidence-led bystander intervention programme in the UK for the prevention of sexual and domestic violence and abuse in a professional sports setting. The programme was developed by the University of Exeter Law School in collaboration with Exeter CITY Community Trust and supported by partners Public Health England, Devon County Council, Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services, Hollie Gazzard Trust and Plymouth Argyle FC.

Football and sport is well positioned to harness the benefits of bystander intervention. High profile players and coaches commonly act as role models, especially for younger people. We harness their position as positive examples to drive culture change in sport. 

The programme takes the form of a 6-hour training delivered across three separate sessions and trains people working in football and sports to be ‘active bystanders’ and positive role models who can intervene safely and effectively when they witness unacceptable behavior – from sexist jokes or demeaning “locker-room” banter.

As with all our programmes, we work with your organisation to create a bespoke package that best suits your needs. Tailored programme content is developed through a series of focus groups to create role-play scenarios that reflect the actual situations that staff and players face in their work. 

The evaluation of Football Onside at Exeter City Community Trust funded by the ESRC in conjunction with Exeter Medical School found that participants had:

  • Reduced beliefs in rape and domestic abuse myths. Following the programme, participants were significantly less likely to exonerate the perpetrator or blame the victim for abuse.
  • Improved intention to help others and readiness to change themselves. 
  • Improved knowledge of the law in this area and reported that this makes them more confident to intervene. 
  • Increased confidence to intervene as bystanders
  • Reported that since the course they had intervened positively in a potentially harmful situation.

Football Onside was launched by Dame Vera Baird QC The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales in 2019.

“As a young footballer I know I would have found it very difficult to speak out in an uncomfortable situation, this initiative means that that others may not find it so difficult and can change things for the better”

“I have broader knowledge around abuse and feel empowered to intervene as a bystander”

“In a changing room, someone said something. I said, ‘That’s too far. Enough of that now,’ and no one ever made a comment like that throughout the whole day… So I don't think I would have done that without this [the programme]… Knowing that I stepped in and potentially helped someone, it really did make my day, and it put a smile on my face for the rest of the day…”

“So if you go past somebody with the ball, you ‘rape’ them. Horrendous. But I've played football professionally and semi-professionally from 16, so it becomes normal, but it’s not. It’s a horrendous word. It’s not used in that context, but it’s not right to say. So someone said that at training and I said ‘Do you know what you're saying when you say that?’ And he didn’t, he was like ‘Oh no.’ When I said it to him, he was horrified. But it’s not right and it’s something that maybe I would have pretended I hadn't heard [before the programme]…

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