Child abusers target sport

20th October 2000 at 01:00
ONE swimming coach a month is suspected of athlete abuse and reported to the sport's national body. But investigations show most cases relate to "inappropriate behaviour" rather than abuse, Paul Bush, chief executive of Scottish Swimming, says.

Academics, meanwhile, insist that youth sport remains one of the last refuges of child abuse because of inadequate vetting and monitoring procedures.

Issues around child protection and youth sport are opened up in this week's TES Scotland by Alan Jones, director of culture and leisure services in Highland, who calls for swift national action.

"The Scottish Executive should consider drawing a line under all that has not been done and as a matter of urgency ensure that teacher training and coach development, qualifications, facilities and local authorities put in place meaningful policies to ensure minimum risk for children participating in sports and leisure activities," he argues.

Mr Bush wants a single child protection database and club-based resource packs, offering enhanced training and support.

Following Lord Cullen's report into the Dunblane shootings, local authorities are beginning to bring in codes of practice and training for coaches and volunteers. But one child protection expert admitted: "There is a long way to go". Staff needed to know how to minimise risks, how to recognise signs of abuse and deal with it, she said.European sports ministers last May wre warned by Professor Celia Brackenridge of Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, Britain's leading researcher on sport and child protection, not to underestimate the scale of the problem and the long-term effects on young people.

Evidence among elite female athletes in Norway found that one in three experienced some form of sexual harassment. They were often ridiculed because of their performance or their gender and were open to "unwanted physical contact, touching and pinching".

A study involving 250 Danish sport students found that one in four knew about or had themselves experienced situations where a coach had sexually harassed a young athlete. In Canada, of 226 elite athletes, one in five had had sex with an authority figure in their sport.

A small-scale Dutch study also showed athletes under 16 were at risk during national and international tournaments, massage by the coach, at the coach's home and when being taken home by car.

Professor Brackenridge says that talented young female athletes are more at risk since they feel "virtually powerless to challenge the one individual who can help her achieve that success".

She points out that children are most at risk from someone they know and that offenders are often well-liked and charismatic. Other researchers say that 90 per cent of victims suffer a significant degree of emotional distress.

Sport, Scotland Plus, page 7

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