Child athletes in Japan routinely face physical, sexual and verbal abuse from their coaches – which has led several to take their own lives.
The claim is made in a highly-critical report by Human Rights Watch, released in the week the 2020 Olympics were due to begin in Tokyo.
The 67-page report, called ‘I Was Hit So Many Times I Can’t Count’: Abuse of Child Athletes in Japan
documents Japan’s history of corporal punishment in sport – known as "taibatsu" in Japanese – and finds child abuse in sports training throughout Japanese schools, federations, and elite sports.
In interviews and a nationwide online survey, Japanese athletes from more than 50 sports reported abuses that included being punched in the face, kicked, beaten with sticks, being deprived of water, choked and being sexually abused and harassed.
For the report, Human Rights Watch documented experiences of more than 800 former child athletes – more than 50 from in-person interviews, and 757 from an online survey.
It found that child abuse in sport remains accepted and normalised in many parts of society, and that it is "difficult" for young athletes to file complaints against a powerful coach or official.
The report claims that schools and federations rarely punish abusive coaches, often allowing them to continue coaching.
Among the interviewees were Olympians and Paralympians.
“For decades, children in Japan have been brutally beaten and verbally abused in the name of winning trophies and medals,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
“As Japan prepares to host the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo in July 2021, the global spotlight brings a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change laws and policies in Japan and around the world to protect millions of child athletes.”
In the report, Human Rights Watch’s recommends that the country should set up a "Japan Center for Safe Sport", an independent administrative body tasked with addressing child abuse in Japanese sport to ensure reporting and tracking of abuse complaints, establish meaningful remedies for athletes and parents, and deter child abuse by identifying and decertifying abusive coaches.
“Taking decisive action to protect child athletes will send a message to Japan’s children that their health and well-being are more important than medals – while placing abusive coaches on notice that their behavior will no longer be tolerated,” Worden added.
“If Japan acts now, it can serve as a model for how other countries can end child abuse in sports.”
• To download and read the full report, click here‘