Someone Is Watching You: The Ethics of Covert Observation to Explore Adult Behaviour at Children’s Sporting Events


Concerns have been expressed about adult behaviour at children’s sporting events in New Zealand. As a consequence, covert observation was identified as the optimal research method to be used in studies designed to record the nature and prevalence of adult sideline behaviour at children’s team sporting events. This paper explores whether the concerns raised by the ethics committee about the use of this controversial method, particularly in relation to the lack of informed consent, the use of deception, and researcher safety, were effectively managed. This is achieved by reflecting on the conduct and findings of the research and by drawing on the perspectives of research assistants who carried out the covert observation. The authors argue that in the context of these studies, the ends have justified the means and with careful attention to the design of the study the complex ethical tensions arising from the use of this method can be managed.

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    Names used are pseudonyms to protect participants’ identities.


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Correspondence to Simon R. Walters.

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Walters, S.R., Godbold, R. Someone Is Watching You: The Ethics of Covert Observation to Explore Adult Behaviour at Children’s Sporting Events. Bioethical Inquiry 11, 531–537 (2014).

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  • Covert observation
  • Children
  • Sideline behaviour
  • Sport
  • Ethics