AN APPRECIATION BY...
Sandra Kirby, Professor Emerita, in Winnipeg, Canada

Way back in the 1980’s, Celia Brackenridge envisioned an international clearing house for research, policy development and activism on child protection in sport (later Safe Sport International (SSI)). This was long before research solidified into a cogent field of child protection work; long before the infamous Paul Hickson case in the UK and long before UNICEF and the IOC began to shine the light on intended harms in sport. Some of Celia’s early work on child abuse in sport leaned on abuse research in what we might now call youth serving organizations (e.g. schools, churches, day cares, orphanages). However, she has always viewed sport as a positive experience for most young people and knew that the underbelly of sport practice was different. Over those early years, Celia was largely alone in the field. Reporters would call asking for her expert opinions. Athletes would call to share their stories and ask for help. It can only have been a most difficult and challenging time for her, but her vision of a better sport for participants certainly kept her going.

The IOC Consensus Statement on Sexual Harassment and Abuse (IOC, 2007) defined the problems, identified the risk factors and set up some guidelines for prevention – all largely based on the work of a small cohort of researchers, activists, policy experts and athletes gathered under the leadership of Celia Brackenridge (UK) and Kari Fasting (NOR). The opportunity for experts to come together at the IOC for Celia was like “having all my Christmases in one year” – and she launched that into further work on child abuse and exploitation in sport. Over the next decade, she focused on opportunities to change sport – not because the research was complete, far from it, but because of the overwhelming need to do the right thing.

Safe Sport International (SSI) grew out of these gatherings – those supported by UNICEF at the Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, the founding meeting of BIRNAW in 2012 and the gathering of experts (all 14 of us) in the UK in 2014 for the creation of of Safe Sport International. Our mission, globally, is to work together to create and disseminate knowledge that supports sport that is abuse and violence free. SSI, based in the UK but with a founding board of individuals from UK, NOR, CAN, USA and Hong Kong, is committed to expanding the knowledge base on safeguarding and athlete welfare in sport, and to moving athlete welfare to the centre of sport. Celia is committed to linking performance success to human rights and the welfare of athletes.

Celia has published her last book, Abuse in Sport - A Selection of Writings (BIRNAW, 2017) …”Ten months ago my life expectancy was nine and a half months: best not tarry then”. In that final publication, we have a window into some of her most profound thoughts about such diverse topics as safety for athletes in sport, global sport organisation, the threads of power and abuse of power, how to make decisions under pressure, travelling as an internationally renowned speaker and managing a private life. We at SSI are stunned at the profoundness of her work – to write this under such extremely difficult health challenges. As Trisha Leahy, co-chair of SSI has written, “Your voice on athlete safety will resound, resonate, and reverberate around the globe for a long time to come”. SSI is one, perhaps the most important, of Celia Brackenridge’s legacies.

— Sandra Kirby, Professor Emerita, Winnipeg, Canada
"I have had the honour and pleasure of working with Celia Brackenridge since 1994 on child protection in sport. I did the first national quantitative study on sexual harassment and abuse in sport (1996), which led to the first book ever published on the topic, The Dome of Silence: Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport (Kirby, Greaves and Hankivsky, Fernwood, 2000). We have several publications together and a lifetime of stories shared."