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United Nations identifies new violent hot spot: youth sports

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Judging by the report put out by UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre (it’s based in Florence, hence what would otherwise seem like a comical Italian name), you should expect to see the blue-helmeted forces of the United Nations keeping the peace at your kid’s next ballgame.

The center (I’m spelling it the American way, damnit) took the time for its usual work of researching the most desperate regions of the world to check out the most desperate parents and coaches in the world — those involved with youth sports in so-called advanced nations. Its report, released in mid-July, is reassuring only in that the United States isn’t the only nation where everyone goes overboard about kids’ athletics.

From the report, titled “Protecting Children from Violence in Sport,” just in case you wondered what the researchers’ conclusion would be:

During recent years, however, it has become evident that sport is not always a safe space for children, and that the same types of violence and abuse sometimes found in families and communities can also occur in sport and play programmes. Child athletes are rarely consulted about their sporting experiences, and awareness of and education on child protection issues among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often lacking.  Overall, appropriate structures and policies need to be developed for preventing, reporting and responding appropriately to violence in children’s sport.

The report is chock-a-block with examples from all over the world regarding abuse of children in the name of sport, and that’s without bringing up the name of a single gymnastics coach or tennis dad.

By the way, the United Nations does not define violence against children in sports (yes, the United Nations passed a resolution to define violence against children in sports) as merely physical, sexual  or mental abuse from a coach or parent, or overtraining a kid to the point he gets Tommy John surgery for his bar mitzvah. The definition includes hazing, peer pressure from teammates to drink or do drugs, the use of performance-enhancing substances, and — in what is sure to arouse the ire of Dave Cisar — sex as a prerequisite to participation.

This passage about organized sports being a political process, rather than a physical one, will get a hey-yeah from anyone whose obviously talented child was cut in favor of the coach’s spazz son:

Street play and other forms of adult-free recreation may be the only situations in which children have autonomy over their sport (although even then, they are often being closely observed by parents or othercaregivers). In contrast, children in organized, competitive sport usually lack authority; they are excluded from decision-making and may have their voices silenced by coaches, assertive parents or caregivers, or by senior athletes. In these instances, participation in sport is therefore a physical but not a political right. As a consequence, children are rarely allowedto shape their own competitive sporting experiences and may be subjected to violence if they fail to comply with the wishes of sport authority figures. This exclusion from the right to participation as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child leaves children vulnerable to types of violence that range from bullying to sexual abuse and commercial trafficking.

So if your child gets cut, make sure to cite the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in your argument to the coach. It’s your ace in the hole.

By the way, if you’re like me — and thank whatever god you worship if you’re not — you did a stop on “commercial trafficking.” You mean, like how strip clubs get their dancers from Eastern Europe? Well, maybe not a large extent, though you can argue the system that rewards street agents to deliver under-18 baseball players in Latin America to Major League Baseball teams is child trafficking of a form. Heck, you could extend the definition to Clark Francis’ Hoop Scoop rating fourth-graders for the pleasure of college coaches, given how far the United Nations extends its definitions of violence against children.

Trafficking in the context of sport involves the sale of child athletes, usually across national boundaries and for profit. This has been described as a new form of child slavery that leaves players in a precarious legal position. There are known cases of trafficking in baseball and football, but finding systematic data on the practice is a challenge. Unofficial, and therefore unregulated, football training centres test young players, who are then recruited or discarded. These players may become involved in illegal migration or be traded from club to club. Research for this report found very few references to trafficking of children in sport; most references concerned children working as camel jockeys.

The Innocenti Research Centre, like any UN peacekeeper, doesn’t have a magic bullet that can end all the violence. The conclusions of its report talk about having more research into exactly how many children in sports are affected bv violence, and what kind; more training and awareness programs by sports organizations; turning over anyone who commits criminal violence against a child to authorities rather than handling it internally (ahem, USA Swimming); and otherwise making it clear to all involved that violence is something you have to worry about.

This report focused only on the industrialized world — not the places where, since the turn of the millennium, the United Nations has launched sports-based programs to help impoverished children in war-torn lands. After all, like most of the rest of us, while the report saw problems in youth sports, it acknowledges it can have great benefits, and that many children enjoy them. The United Nations’ goal, it appears, is to ensure that blood diamonds exist only inside a youth sports complex.

Written by rkcookjr

July 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm

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