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Experts Call For Greater Protection of Young Elite Athletes

A leading academic from Brunel University today calls for sports bodies to do more to protect elite child athletes from abuse in the run up to the 2012 Olympics. For the first time ever, major UK sporting bodies are meeting to create a child protection action plan which will help bring the UK in line with the IOC guidance on training young elite athletes. The UK will be one of the first countries to address these guidelines.

Prof. Celia Brackenridge is also presenting the results of a comparative study into child abuse in high performance sports. Prof Brackenridge's research review, which investigates recent research across nine countries, illustrates that:

X Athletes harass peer athletes more than coaches do
X The higher the performance level, the greater the risk of sexual exploitation inside sport
X Males, especially coaches, are responsible for most sexual exploitation
X Whilst fears of false allegations are high, actual incidences do not appear in the studies

However, for Prof. Celia Brackenridge, the most startling aspect of the review was that there were so few studies on abuse in child sport. She comments: “We urgently need more research on this topic. If I had chosen to investigate doping in athletes, I'd probably be working away until sometime next year, looking at millions of pounds worth of research studies. As it is, there are precious few studies into abuse in child sport. It's not just sexual abuse we're talking about - and that is thankfully rare - but also physical and psychological abuse.

“The more we demand from our child athletes, the greater the risk of abuse. Put simply, with long hours practicing, time spent away from family and friends and immense pressure to succeed, it's easy to see how vulnerable children might be - and how welfare might be secondary to success. We need more research to understand exactly the risk to today's children training to high levels.“

Steve Boocock, director the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU), comments: “Although there is no evidence to suggest that young elite UK athletes are currently being abused in the UK, the risk young people competing at the top of their sport face is clear. It's about finding a sensible balance between training world-class athletes and protecting our young sporting elite. The conference gives us an opportunity to work with sporting bodies to find that fine balance. Our aim is to bring the UK in line with the recently published International Olympic Committee's (IOC) guidance on training athletes.“

“Celia's research review shows the need for an open debate about the issues of performance, so that the industry can balance the interests of athletes with success in sport. The conference will be a good step in that direction, helping those involved in sport put the recommendations into practice.“

Prof. Brackenridge also outlines a list of popular myths associated with abuse in sport, such as:
X Team sports are safer than individual sports
X Touching in sport is always unsafe
X Less clothing leads to more abuse
X There are some abuse-free sports
X Athletes are more in danger from strangers than those inside sport
X Athletes 'make up' stories about being abused to 'get back' at their coach/manager/selector
X Athlete victims are 'partly to blame' if they do not repel/refuse or immediately report abuse