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Protecting young athletes around the world

The result of many years of committed research and pioneering campaigning by Professor Celia Brackenridge OBE, the issue of abuse of child athletes has finally been brought into mainstream consciousness. Spending most of her career raising awareness of child protection, Prof Brackenridge's research helped revolutionise the way the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UNICEF approached athlete welfare.

Prof Brackenbridge has been advocating for greater safeguarding in children's sport since the 1980s. Prof Brackenridge's research and advocacy was instrumental in the establishment of the Child Protection in Sport Unitin 2001. Government funding to this area had previously been non-existent.

Starting as director of Brunel's Centre for Youth Sport and Athlete Welfare in 2005, brought attention to the risk of abuse for young athletes competing at high levels, something she labels 'the stage of imminent achievement' - the most vulnerable point for any child athlete. In a 2012 interview, Prof Brackenridge told Brunel: "It's difficult for an athlete to talk about their negative experiences. Every Olympics puts pressure on athletes to win medals, and the UK Government is hoping for great things from the UK teams. It's important that coaches treat the athletes as people first and foremost, and as potential medal winners second.

"Statistics from 2011 showed that almost a fifth of child protection cases in sport concerned sexual abuse, with few leading to a criminal prosecution. Access to information in this area remains difficult, with sports bodies often citing data protection. While there is still much to be done, Prof Brackenbridge has helped the Football Association roll out its Respect Behaviour Management programme, which has seen a 15per cent decrease in serious cases of assault throughout the UK. She has influenced policy around the globe, all Olympic competing countries are now required to have rules designed to protect athletes and prevent harassment.

The university continues to lead the way in protecting young athletes. Prof Brackenridge launched the Brunel International Research Network for Athlete Welfare (BIRNAW) to enable researchers worldwide to share their knowledge and broaden the field of child welfare in sport. Dr Daniel Rhind is leading a project which builds on work to develop, implement and evaluate the International Safeguards for Children in Sport. This research will help to extend and embed the legacy of Prof Brackenridge's research.