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Human rights in youth sport
  1. Nicola Maffulli

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    Edited by P David. London: Published by Routledge, 2005, £70.00 (soft cover), pp 338. ISBN 0415305594

    It may not be apparent unless one works in the field, but abuse of athletic children in the name of their sports is relatively widespread, even in so-called civilised societies. It includes the imposition of training regimes suited for adult athletes, punishment, encouraging the development of eating disorders and doping, psychological, sexual and emotional abuse from parents and coaches (who should be the protectors of the child athlete), and other competitors (who might be subjected to the same abuse). It culminates in trafficking and sale of young athletes, and in systematic violation of educational agreements and basic family rights of these children. All this despite the precise statements made by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Unfortunately, there are few reliable data on this topic, and Paulo David estimates that, of all children involved in competitive sports, 10% have undergone human rights abuse, and another 20% are at risk.

    The author makes the point that self-monitoring in sports is practically non-existent: sport is considered to be a private activity, and it has been recognised only in the past few years that young athletes have special requirements. Also, child labour and exploitation laws do not apply to sports.

    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was not conceived to apply to competitive children’s sports, but it is scary to see how essentially all of its articles can and have been circumvented in the name of elite youth sports achievements. It is evident that the education of young elite athletes has to be put on the shelf, possibly never to be taken up again, if a young athlete trains twice a day for up to 30 h a week. The pressure to perform may become too much, and some children may fail at both education and sport. They become double casualties, leaving school at an early age and unable to earn their living through sport (p 181).

    I knew about the “baseball factories” of Latin America, but the extent of the problem was not clear. I shall look at baseball with a different eye from now on!

    This book mainly deals with elite and American university-based sports, but the principles also apply to school sports. “Whatever is done should be in the best interests of the child or youth” is the principle that should be foremost in every coach’s mind.

    Human rights in youth sports is written in a serious but not heavy style, and makes enthralling reading. There is an extensive bibliography, in which I could not avoid noticing that my own surname had been misspelt!

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