Olympics-Human Rights Watch report documents abuse of child athletes in Japanese sport

The report comes in the week that would have marked the start of the Tokyo Olympics. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - A Human Rights Watch report has found child athletes in Japan often suffer physical and verbal abuse and sometimes sexual abuse when training for sport after documenting the experiences of over 800 athletes in 50 sports.

The 67-page report released on Monday (July 20) titled I Was Hit So Many Times I Can't Count looks at Japan's history of physical punishment in sport and includes first-hand accounts of athletes being punched, kicked and whipped.

The report comes in the week that would have marked the start of the Tokyo Olympics had it not been for the global coronavirus pandemic. The Games have now been delayed a year.

"The specific abuses we documented include punching, slapping, kicking or striking with objects (and) excessive or insufficient food and water," Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told a news conference.

In 2013, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) promised to take steps to wipe out violence among its sports federations after an internal survey revealed more than 10 per cent of its athletes had been victims of bullying or harassment.

It also cut funding to its Judo federation at the time after coaches were found to have physically abused female athletes.

HRW said, however, that not enough had been done since then and demanded organisations such as the Japan Sports Council and the JOC use the upcoming Olympics as a catalyst for change.

"Human Rights Watch is calling on Japan to take decisive action and to lead in tackling this global crisis," Worden said.

The JOC did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The report was based on interviews with more than 50 current and former athletes, an online survey that drew more than 757 responses and meetings with eight Japanese sports organisations.

Of the 381 survey respondents aged 24 or younger, 19 per cent indicated they had been hit, punched, slapped, kicked, knocked to the ground or beaten with an object while participating in sports.

These experiences occurred in at least 22 different sports, the report said.

"The coach told me I was not serious enough with the running, so we were all called to the coach and I was hit in the face in front of everyone. I was bleeding, but he did not stop hitting me," the report quoted a professional athlete given the pseudonym of Daiki A as saying.

Eighteen percent reported experiencing verbal abuse, and five reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment while participating in sport as children.

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