Abuse of child athletes rife in Japanese sport – HRW report


Child athletes in Japan suffer physical, sexual, and verbal abuse when training for sport, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The report titled “I Was Hit So Many Times I Can’t Count: Abuse of Child Athletes in Japan,” documents depression, suicides, physical disabilities, and lifelong trauma resulting from the abuse.

Japan is set to host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics starting on July 23, 2021.

The 67-page report looks at Japan’s history of physical punishment in sport and includes first-hand accounts of athletes being punched, kicked and whipped.

The report comes in the week that would have marked the start of the Tokyo Olympics had it not been for the global coronavirus pandemic. The Games have now been delayed a year.

“For decades, children in Japan have been brutally beaten and verbally abused in the name of winning trophies and medals,” Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.

In 2013, while Japan was bidding to host the 2020 Olympics, a series of videos of high-profile elite athlete abuse cases, coupled with suicides of child athletes, spurred leading sports agencies to speak out on the need for child protection in sport.

This led to the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) promising to take steps to wipe out violence among its sports federations after an internal survey revealed more than 10% of its athletes had been victims of bullying or harassment.

They also cut funding to its judo federation at the time after coaches were found to have physically abused female athletes.

HRW said, however, that not enough had been done since then and demanded organisations such as the Japan Sports Council and the JOC use the upcoming Olympics as a catalyst for change.

The report was based on interviews with more than 50 current and former athletes, an online survey that drew more than 757 responses and meetings with eight Japanese sports organisations.

Of the 381 survey respondents aged 24 or younger, 19% indicated they had been hit, punched, slapped, kicked, knocked to the ground or beaten with an object while participating in sports. These experiences occurred in at least 22 different sports, the report said.

“The coach told me I was not serious enough with the running, so we were all called to the coach and I was hit in the face in front of everyone. I was bleeding, but he did not stop hitting me,” the report quoted a professional athlete given the pseudonym of Daiki A as saying.

Eighteen percent reported experiencing verbal abuse, and five reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment while participating in sport as children.

Human Rights Watch found that child abuse in sport remains accepted and normalized in many parts of society, and that it is difficult for young athletes to file complaints against a powerful coach or official.

Schools and federations rarely punish abusive coaches, often allowing them to continue coaching, Human Rights Watch said. (Source: CNA)