There is enough empirical evidence to say that children are currently being put at certain unnecessary risks while enrolled in sporting activities and that they might not be as well protected as it has been historically thought.
“Sport is neither inherently good nor bad; the positive experiences of sport do not result from participation but from the nature of the experience. In the hands of the right people with the right attitudes, sport can be a positive, character-building experience.”– Dr Stuart Robbins, Straight talk About Children in Sport, 1996
For almost one third of EU citizens, the fields of sports and leisure are areas where government or public administration should take children’s interests into account when adopting legislation or making decisions (32%). Flash Eurobarometer The Rights of the Child Analytical report May 2009: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_273_en.pdf
Considering that for 35% (2003) of the EU citizens the issue of "sexual abuse of children" in sport is of concern (29% in 2004) as the issue of “exploitation of children” is for 35% in 2003 (25% in 2004) (Eurobarometer: 2003 and 2004). Special Eurobarometer. The citizens of the European Union and Sport: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_213_presentation.pdf
Research studies, evidence and high-profile cases have drawn attention to the problem of violence in sport that “young athletes” have experienced in the context of sporting activities. Paulo David, former Secretary of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, roughly estimates that, of all children involved in “competitive sports”, 10% have undergone human rights abuse, and another 20% are at risk. Paulo David, Human Rights in Youth Sport: A critical review of children's rights in competitive sports, Routledge, London and New York, 2005.
Another study conducted in Denmark among 250 sport students showed that about 25% either knew about or had experienced situations in which a sport participant under the age of 18 had been sexually harassed by a coach. From the studies we have consulted we may estimate that between 2% and 8% of athletes (both minors and young adults) are victims of sexual assault within the context of sport.
Latest research throws the following results on prevalence of violence in Sport against athletes:
- Sexual harassment – 14-49% (outliners 2-92%)
- Sexual abuse – 2-13% against females (outliner 49%) and 6% against males
- Physical violence – 11%
- Psychological violence – 38% (outliner 75%)
- Bullying - +/- 30%
Nielsen, Jan Toftegaard, ‘The Forbidden Zone’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, vol. 36, no. 2, 2001, pp. 165-182. https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/violence_in_sport.pdf / http://www.sportanddev.org/en/learnmore/safeguarding/ / Brackenridge, C. H. & Fasting, K. (1998).
Finally, there is no need to read studies and reports from universities or official institutions; we only need to spend a weekend attending child sports competitions to observe that what our children are being taught with regard to respecting their rivals, even their team members, and especially the referees or judges, is far from being at the level that it should. This makes us wonder what and how some of these children are instructed in their sports training.
Although the problem of the lack of child protection could be considered to be an issue that affects less developed countries exclusively, over the past few years we have witnessed a deluge of news cases in Europe regarding child abuse in the context of sport. News cases regarding sexual abuse in the past few years are especially alarming and appear with force in the media, especially regarding well-known sports personalities. However, there are many more news pieces on grassroots sports clubs and associations and this makes us reflect and think that, perhaps, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Finally, we must consider that children are not small adults. The training systems used in high-level sport may be damaging the physical and mental health of these minors, who are not physiologically, hormonally or psychologically capable of adapting to the workload entailed by such systems. Certain dietary manipulations can be especially aggressive for boys and girls that are still growing and maturing; and this, without going into the terrible and devastating phenomenon of doping.
As the title of the book by Dr. Jacques Personne suggests, we must consider that