Athlete union research aims to improve child protection

GENEVA (AP) — A world-wide network of athletes’ unions published research Tuesday aimed at better protecting young people in sports following sexual abuse scandals in gymnastics and soccer.

About 300 international athletes, including some Olympians, shared their experiences of abuse and intimidation they suffered and witnessed as minors for the Census of Athlete Rights Experiences report.

The document, which details how government and sports bodies can help safeguard children, was presented at an online conference hosted by the World Players Association and National Basketball Players Association.

“We want real change and we want the cycle of abuse to stop,” said Andrea Florence, project coordinator for the Switzerland-based World Players, whose members represent professional athletes in more than 60 countries.

The research was a two-year project with Loughborough University in England.

It followed the sentencing of Larry Nasser, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, to decades in prison for multiple sexual offenses involving athletes and children.

“The U.S. gymnastics case has been a catalyst for change and for survivors to speak out throughout the world,” Florence told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

A bullying culture in gymnastics has been investigated recently in countries including Australia, Japan, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

In English soccer, decades of systematic abuse of boys in youth teams linked to professional clubs was detailed by survivors in media interviews starting in 2016.

English daily The Guardian also revealed since 2018 scandals in Afghanistan and Haiti involving sexual assaults of women’s national team players. FIFA banned for life the former soccer federation president in each country, Keramuddin Karim and Yves Jean-Bart.

The World Players’ report urges governments and sports bodies to enact laws and set up processes that safely give abuse survivors access to justice, apologies and compensation.

“Survivors of abuse won’t take the risk of reporting if the right systems and protection mechanisms are not in place,” Florence said. “We look forward to working with sports governing bodies, including the IOC and FIFA, to bring to life the recommendations set out in the CARE Report and ensure that athletes are able to play sports safely — from the playground to the podium.”

The IOC will soon begin an international course to educate safeguarding officers at sports bodies. The governing body of soccer runs a child protection program called FIFA Guardians.

Tuesday’s conference also aimed to help athlete unions better represent child athletes.

World Players executive director Brendan Schwab said it was “a vital gap we are determined to fill.”

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