Harmful behaviour

Warning: This page contains information that may be distressing or triggering for some people. Contact support services

Everyone deserves to enjoy and take part in sport and recreation activities free from bullying, violence, abuse, intimidation and harassment and other harmful behaviours.

This behaviour is never ok. It can show up in lots of ways on or off the field or while taking part in club activities.

You or someone you know may experience or be affected by this harmful behaviour. It can affect any participant: players, athletes, parents, organisers, volunteers, coaches, spectators or officials.

Sport and recreation organisations are responsible for protecting participants. But it’s everyone’s responsibility to play a part recognising and responding to the signs and put a stop to harmful behaviour.

Harmful behaviours



Bullying is embarrassing, intimidating or threatening someone. It is behaviour that’s repeated over time. It can involve a single person or group, as either the bully or the person who is being bullied.

It can cause you distress, humiliation or shame. It can affect your physical and mental health, confidence and self-esteem. It may leave you feeling powerless, and as if you are unable to stop the bullying from happening.

One-off rudeness or tactlessness, unless it’s very serious, is not considered bullying behaviour. Likewise, having high standards because of quality and safety, or giving constructive feedback to improve performance isn’t bullying.

Verbal, physical, psychological and social bullying

There are different types of bullying.

  • Verbal bullying is calling someone names, insulting them about how they look, their culture, race, sexuality or religion.

  • Physical bullying is hitting, spitting, shoving someone, stealing or damaging belongings.

  • Psychological and social bullying is ganging up on someone, regularly leaving people out of events, preventing them from going somewhere, posting or sharing unwanted images and content online.

Examples of bullying you may see

  • Giving someone made up rules or different activities to others in the team.

  • An official being aggressive towards or intimidating a young coach.

  • Spectators verbally abuse participants from the opposition.

  • A parent tells a child they are incompetent, hopeless, useless, or no good after training or a game.

  • An athlete repeatedly calls a referee names and uses offensive language.

  • A group of people gangs up on an individual team or group.

  • A parent intimidates a young coach or supervisor.

  • A team member doesn’t get messages meant for everyone, or they are left out of games or events.

  • A player regularly takes credit for another person’s achievement or win.



Violence is serious and comes in many forms. It is a deliberate use of physical force or power to hurt you, a group or community. It can cause physical, social, spiritual and emotional harm and, in some cases, death. The harm violence causes can last for a long time after the initial abuse happens.

It can be a one-off incident or a series of acts that form a pattern of abuse.

The difference between physical contact and violence

Contact and combat sport and activities can get physical, and players can get hurt. If it happens within the rules of the game, it is ok but beyond that, it may step over the line into violence.

  • Physical force or aggression that falls under the rules of the game is ok. For example, a regulation tackle in rugby that injures another player.

  • Physical force or aggression that’s not in the rules but managed on the field is also ok. For example, a high tackle in rugby where a player gets a yellow or red card. It’s sorted at the time, and physical contact is generally accepted by spectators and players.

  • Violence that’s not ok is behaviour that is outside the rules of the game and could be against the law. It may cause injury or death, or seriously impact you. For example, forcefully punching an opponent in the head to take them out of the game, or a fight during a hockey game that ends up with a player seriously injured.

Examples of violence you may see

  • A player pushes a referee after a game in the changing rooms and tries to punch and kick them.

  • Spectators support opposition teams who destroy a fence and throw it at each other.

  • A coach yells from courtside and threatens to knock out an opposition player.

  • Two runners in a marathon have a physical fight on the course after bumping into each other.

What isn’t violence

These examples are not considered violent. It’s usually accidental but best avoided if you can.

  • A boxer’s training partner is knocked out while ducking to avoid a right hook during training.

  • Two opposition coaches call each other idiots.

  • Two players collide jumping for the ball, and one of the players is seriously hurt from the collision.



Abuse can be physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual. It causes or is likely to cause harm to your wellbeing. It can be used to gain control or coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do.

Anyone can act in ways that are abusive, and sometimes it is done by a person in a position of trust or in authority.

You can experience different forms of abuse at the same time. For example, physical abuse and emotional abuse.

Types of abuse

  • Physical abuse includes hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, spitting or biting. It’s also pushing people beyond their physical limits or depriving them of food, drinks or rest.

  • Psychological abuse can include stalking, exclusion and humiliation.

  • Emotional abuse can include aggressive shouting, belittling, threats, exclusion, stalking and humiliation.

  • Sexual abuse involves any sexual activity where consent is not or can’t be given. It can include unwanted touching, unconsented sex or sexual acts, making sexual jokes, or showing pornography. It may involve sexual grooming. Grooming is a process used to make a child, young person, adult or vulnerable adult an easier victim for future sexual abuse.

Read child safeguarding – identifying and preventing grooming

Examples of abuse you may see

  • Coaches who constantly overload athletes with unreasonable or dangerous practice sessions or training programmes.

  • A staff member of an organisation belittles, humiliates and threatens a team member to make them work outside agreed timeframes.

  • A senior team member touches and intentionally grabs the genitals of another team member.

  • A strength and conditioning coach uses unreasonable or dangerous training to punish an athlete.

  • A gymnast is made to perform a movement they do not have the skill for, and this causes an injury.

  • An athlete’s diet is restricted or controlled. A manager tells them their weight is making it harder for the team to win a competition.



Intimidation is threatening behaviour that makes you feel fearful, distressed, hurt or excluded from activities. For example, threatened with violence, or watched, followed or accosted.

Types of intimidation

  • Physical intimidation includes hitting, pushing, shoving, forcing you to do something you don’t want to do.

  • Verbal intimidation includes insults or making fun of someone, making sexist or racist comments, or comments about how you look.

  • Social intimidation includes spreading rumours or lies, humiliating you or isolating and excluding you from activities.

 Examples of intimidation you may see

  • A parent tells a team coach they’ll punch them if they don’t let their child play in a game.

  • A player follows another team member down the street shouting they are useless and stupid.

  • A parent sends a volunteer intimidating or abusive emails, text messages or uses social media.

  • A coach constantly shouts and yells at players to work harder or they will not play in the next game.

  • Spectators repeatedly shove or deliberately bump into opposition fans.



Harassment is unwelcome behaviour that is offensive, threatening or degrading. It is usually repeated but can also be a single serious incident. Harassment can include gossip, jokes, teasing or using inappropriate, offensive nicknames.

It’s still harassment even if it's not meant to offend or humiliate.

Examples of harassment you may see

  • Players continually tell insulting jokes about a teammate who has just moved to New Zealand.

  • A coach sends unwanted sexually suggestive emails or text messages to the team manager.

  • A club manager asks a player lots of intrusive questions about their personal life, including their sex life.

  • A club committee force participants to wear revealing uniforms.

Why it's harmful

Harmful behaviour affects everyone. You may feel bad about yourself or alone. But it can happen to anyone. And there are people who can help you.

People deserve to enjoy sport and recreation in a safe and healthy environment. And to enjoy the benefits of participating in and performing well in the things they love to do.

Everyone suffers when bullying, violence, abuse, intimidation or harassment happens.

It damages participants’ physical and mental wellbeing

Being on the receiving end of harmful behaviour can:

  • result in feelings of embarrassment, shame, fear

  • lead to a loss of self-esteem, confidence or mana

  • lead to depression, anxiety, risk-taking behaviour and self-harm

  • result in poorer performance, either through injury or loss of confidence.

You may:

  • become withdrawn, no longer want to join in or lose trust in the team and officials

  • drop out or leave the sport or activity

  • feel you’re not good enough.

Physical injuries stop a person performing well or to their full ability. They may not be able to continue the sport or recreation they have put time and effort into.

It affects family, friends and whānau

It’s not only the person being targeted; harmful behaviour also affects those close to them.

  • It is distressing to find out a loved one is experiencing harmful behaviour. You may feel powerless or guilty you didn’t pick it up earlier.

  • It is worrying and upsetting if a loved one goes from being confident to withdrawn and quiet, and you’re not sure why. It is difficult if they won’t talk about it.

  • The person may show signs of extreme behaviour. For instance, having outbursts, being overly demanding, or aggressive.

Organisations and clubs can lose out

Clubs and organisations may lose:

  • members and volunteers if people feel they haven’t been treated fairly

  • new members who are thinking of joining a team

  • public confidence and their reputation as a trusted and safe place to be

  • funding and sponsorship opportunities.

What to do if you see signs of harmful behaviour

Bullying, violence, abuse, intimidation or harassment is never ok. It can happen to anyone. We need to make sure sport and recreation is safe and fair for everyone.

If you think someone is being abused in whatever form, speak out. Speaking out can help the behaviour to stop and keep people safe.

  • If you think someone is in danger, call the police on 111.

  • Where possible, support the person to leave the situation. Make sure this doesn’t put you or them at further risk.

  • Listen to the person, and reassure them you take the issue and their safety seriously.

  • Ask them what action they would like to take and how you can best support them to do that.

  • Let them know that they should escalate the issue and help them to work through the process.

  • Report it to us, the Commission’s resolution service or another agency. For example, the police.

  • Follow up with your club or organisation to check what steps they’ve taken to resolve the complaint.

  • Continue to check in with the person to see how they are doing. Give the person a list of support services they can contact.

  • You can also use support services. Or talk to someone you trust like friends, family and whānau if you are distressed.

Contact support services

  • You may want to approach the person accused of carrying out the sexual misconduct. Use the organisation or club policy to guide you on how best to do this, and what steps you should take.

What your club or organisation can do

  • Appoint someone in your club or organisation responsible for harmful behaviour policies and the complaints process. For example, the head of your club or organisation could take on the role.

  • Adopt and implement policies, and a code of conduct, which prohibits harmful behaviour.

    • Make sure they are fit for purpose and appropriate for the people they are designed for.

    • Make sure they are implemented through clear guidance and enforced.

    • Promote and communicate policies so that everyone knows where to find and access them.

  • Provide education programmes and guidance on preventing and recognising harmful behaviour for staff, volunteers, families and participants. Actively communicate this, and make sure everyone is aware. Include:

    • what is (and is not) acceptable behaviour,

    • steps to take to prevent and recognise harmful behaviour

    • how to report an incident or make a complaint.

  • Make reporting easy.

  • Make sure everyone knows how to report an incident or make a complaint. Include where, who, and how they can report harmful behaviour. Make it clear that it is safe to report.

  • Have clear lines of reporting and actions for when people do speak up.

  • Have a clear process to follow up complaints and concerns.

  • Take concerns and complaints seriously, particularly from vulnerable people. Tell us at the Commission – and other services if it’s appropriate, such as the police or Netsafe – so it can be investigated by someone skilled in this area.

  • Make sure everyone in the club or organisation knows all complaints and concerns will be handled correctly and remain confidential.

Report an incident or make a complaint

Call the police on 105 to report an incident or call 111 if it’s an emergency.

We encourage you to report an incident or make a complaint using our free and independent service. When you make a complaint, it can be to more than one person or place.

Make a complaint