Forum: Strengthen safe sport policies to prevent athlete abuse

Netflix documentary Athlete A on the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on hundreds of American gymnasts helped unravel more testimonies of coach abuse in other countries, including that of Singaporean figure skater Yu Shuran and former national gymnast Eileen Chai while they were training in China (Education key in fight against athlete abuse: Experts, Aug 20).

For the most part, people seem to overlook abuse or harassment involving psychological abuse and neglect in the sports community.

Just recently, a South Korean triathlete committed suicide after years of physical and verbal abuse by coaches, and after her complaints were ignored by the sporting authorities.

Having been involved with sports for over 30 years, I have heard and witnessed psychological abuse and neglect. It is common to see abusive coaches yelling at athletes or officials, and irate coaches yelling disparaging remarks and threats to their underperforming athletes.

Some abusive behaviours have happened in the presence of teachers and parents, who were either oblivious to or ignored the abuse in the heat of competition. The fine line between what is acceptable and what is not becomes blurred.

The abuse tends to be brushed aside as part of toughening young athletes in the pursuit of sports excellence. A 2012 study of over a thousand athletes participating in the Ministry of Education schools' competitions found nearly half of them having negative sports experiences.

Do we really have adequate safeguards to protect vulnerable athletes from abuse?

Certainly sports organisations would have established safe sports and child protection policies. Yet, the abuse still happened and were mostly revealed much later by former athletes.

Perhaps the relevant authorities could re-examine and strengthen current safe sport policies.

For example, athletes could be interviewed anonymously to check on potential abuse or harassment.

Second, create a safe and convenient way for athletes to speak up if they witness or experience any form of abuse.

Vincent Ong