- Coaches with a clean slate of records, the first step in battling any sexual violence in sports.
- Coaches who commit sexual abuse often have high status in their sport or their sports organization
- Sports organizations lack the resources and knowledge needed to prevent and act on sexual abuse.
- Make Police department, a part of the fight to prevent sexual assault on athletes
Countries like the United States, Australia and England, known to be equipped with the best sports policies, maintain that coaches at all levels, or any volunteer paid or unpaid, should undergo criminal background and child abuse checks before they take up their respective responsibilities.
Unfortunately, even with such watertight recruitment policies, traumatic tales of sexual assaults on athletes show no sign of abating. Much to our dismay, India cuts a sorry figure and with much higher ramifications as our coaches and other staff concerned hardly goes through any background verification.
To shed more light on the topic, even the public outcry on incidents like the conviction of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar who had abused over more than 300 athletes and the recent arrest of Chennai-based athletics coach P Nagarajan could not prevent a father-son duo who were Kabbadi coaches, from allegedly raping two minor girls, a few days ago in Visakhapatnam. The girls had enrolled in their centre to learn the game.
Not only that, a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by the Indian Express in 2020 revealed that out of 45 cases of sexual assaults reported from the Sports Authority of India ( SAI) centres in the last decade, 29 cases were against the coaches.
It does not mean that coaches alone are the evil perpetrators but the fish rots from the head. Since they serve as the backbone and act as a major link between the athletes and other staff, coaches with a clean slate of records would be the first step in battling any sexual violence in sports.
Besides, as our athletes are yet to have a full-fledged entourage comprising sports doctors, sports psychologists, nutritionists and the like, their professional lives end up being more or less controlled by the coaches.
Hence it’s time to demarcate the boundaries between a coach and his athletes to prevent increasing sexual assaults.
The USA Football, the national governing body for amateur American football believes that background checks are critical as it is the first step in protecting the athletes.
Unfortunately, “sports organizations lack the resources and knowledge needed to prevent and act on sexual abuse,” notes the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ), an agency that aids government departments, educational institutes, the private sector and the general public.
They found out in their research titled ‘ Sexual abuse on young people in sport’ that adequate screening is not in place while hiring people and few have implemented sexual abuse prevention measures.
If that’s the situation in countries with a strict stipulation that screening must be done, India’s position in the matter is highly precarious.
Though other countries have many non-profit organizations to fight against the atrocities meted out to the athletes, India has none.
INSPQ’s findings also show “coaches who commit sexual abuse often have high status in their sport or their sports organization, whether in their city, province or country. They have a good reputation and have won the trust of parents and young people.”
The situation is more or less the same in India too. Owing to this, often, athletes have to succumb to many coercions especially, if their future is at the mercy of their coaches, points out Dr Indulekha R, sports management researcher, management educator and writer.
“The athletes toil and moil day and night and must have made a mark. But coaches can block their progress if they do not yield to their coaxing. Since most of the athletes come from a humble background, they keep mum as sports is their only option either to get a government job or to make a decent living.”
“I would like to call most coercions a ‘Last Minute Attack‘,” she says, “as it would leave the athlete with no choice.”
Dr Indulekha also says the police department should carry out the verification check as we are trying to avoid criminal histories. “But there should be a proper system to ensure that it is foolproof. A supervising committee with women who have a more psychological understanding on the issues faced by athletes would also be of help to an extent.”
The guidelines of Women’s Sports Foundation, an educational non-profit charity focused on female involvement in sports say that the coaches should participate in periodic training that enhances coaches’ understanding of issues surrounding sexual harassment.
For instance, the UK, which has proved to be the best example of developing a comprehensive policy for child athletes’ welfare and abuse prevention, has made it mandatory that the sports agencies should meet the requirements of the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) if they need government funding.
The CPCU is co-funded by the government’s sports agency, Sport England, and England’s largest children’s charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
It demands that all certified coaches in the UK must complete a basic child protection awareness course that equips them to recognise and refer possible cases of child abuse, sexual or other.
The Football (soccer) Association, the governing body of football in England, for example, had trained more than 150,000 people in child protection by early 2006.
Nevertheless, putting a gap between the athletes and coaches without a proper understanding of the issue would be a disaster.
The#CoachDontTouchMe campaign of 2018 and the rising public attention towards sexual violence in sports have occasionally led to formulating no-touch policies. But rather than solving the issue, it gave rise to uncertainty and unjustified portrayal of coaches says a research article published by frontiersin.org.
Dr Indulekha says not all coaches are predators. Besides, for the sports and the sportsman to grow, there should be trust between them. “A mistrust will not take them anywhere. This demands the need for proper research in the area by a trustworthy body.”
But the fact of the matter is however hard we try to bring a solution to this problem, it hardly gets due visibility. Bryan Armen Graham, Sports Deputy News Editor of Guardian US noted in one of his articles that it’s because the abuse of women is normalized in our society.
“When a football coach is found to have molested boys, who are abused at a lower rate than girls ((although at a much higher rate than we realize, due to underreporting), it goes against our expectations and shakes the foundation of a sport associated with virility and masculinity,” he writes.
Now, the onus is on us to give a different narrative.