Social Issues

Rights watchdog documents abuse of child athletes in Japan for Olympic medals

Tokyo,July 20 (efe-epa) .- Child athletes in Japan are routinely subjected to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse when training for sport, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged in a report published Monday.

The findings are based on the testimonies of more than 800 Japanese athletes over the past six months and come just a year before Tokyo hosts the Olympics Games in July 2021.

The findings point to widespread abuse of child athletes at many levels, from school sports to top-level competitions, according to the global rights group.

“Japanese athletes from more than 50 sports reported abuses that included being punched in the face, kicked, beaten with objects like bats or bamboo kendo sticks, being deprived of water, choked, whipped with whistles or racquets, and being sexually abused and harassed,” the report said.

The group had conducted similar studies in countries that previously hosted the Olympics like Brazil, China, and Russia.

“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 HRW, said during the online release of the report.

One of the most common forms of abuse, according to the report, is various kinds of attacks by the coaches, which 19 percent of the young people interviewed by the group claim to have been subjected to.

Also, 25 percent of the respondents were forced to eat “excessive amounts of food ” and 22 percent were forced to train when they were injured or “punished with excessive training.”

The report said 18 percent of the respondents had experienced some form of verbal abuse, while 11.5 percent said they had faced “power harassment and sexual harassment including physical abuse during playing sport.”

According to the report, while coaches are the main perpetrators of physical abuse of child athletes, they are followed by older or more experienced teammates, known in Japan as “senpai”.

“Physical violence as a coaching technique has a long tradition in Japanese sport, often seen as essential to achieving excellence in competition and personal character,” the report said.

The main peculiarities of Japan compared to other countries where HRW has analyzed the problem are the cultural and institutional roots of abusive practices, as well as the lack of victim support services and reporting systems.

In 2013, the Japanese government announced new regulations to deal with the problem of child abuse in sports, but those measures were already outdated according to international standards and never fully implemented, Worden said.

She added that most young athletes did not understand their basic rights or were too afraid to report the abuse, and if they did, they did not find any form of support.

With the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games delayed until Summer 2021, Japan has one year to take convincing action before the games begin, the rights group said.

In this context, HRW recommended that the Japanese government take concrete actions such as explicitly prohibiting abuse as a form of instruction and instituting a body tasked with receiving complaints from minors, investigating them, and taking action against the perpetrators.

“Taking decisive action to protect child athletes will send a message to Japan’s children that their health and well-being are more important than medals – while placing abusive coaches on notice that their behavior will no longer be tolerated,” Worden said.

“If Japan acts now, it can serve as a model for how other countries can end child abuse in sports.” EFE-EPA


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