More than 800 former child athletes in Japan suffered physical and sexual abuse while training for their sports, according to a recent report from Human Rights Watch.
The watchdog documented stories from athletes across 50 sports and 45 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. More than 750 participated in an online survey, while over 50 shared their experiences in face-to-face interviews.
The result comes in a 67-paged report that highlights Japan’s history of “taibatsu,” or corporal punishment in sports. The practice is allegedly rampant in Japanese schools, federations and elite sports.
“I was hit so many times, I can’t count. Everyone [on my current team] was hit as high school athletes, everyone experienced taibatsu,” said a 23-year-old athlete who played baseball in high school.
According to the report, child athletes are punched, kicked, choked, deprived of water, and beaten or whipped with sports equipment.
“Swimmers were beaten with the fins. If we weren’t meeting targets, when we would touch the wall [at the end of a heat] the coach would hang us by the neck on the timer rope to punish,” recalled a 45-year-old former athlete, who started swimming at age 8. “I remember sinking without a breath and then the coach beat me.”
There are also cases of sexual abuse, which police reportedly dismissed.
“I am not living with hating someone 24/7 anymore, but this thing will never go away from my mind, never,” one athlete in her 20s said, accusing a former coach and teammate.
The prevalent abuse reportedly resulted in depression, suicides, physical disabilities and lifelong trauma. Memories return as Japan prepares to host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics from July 23, 2021.
“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.”
Aside from shedding light on the athletes’ experiences, HRW criticizes Japan’s “ambiguous” law against child abuse. The 2011 Basic Act on Sport (Basic Act), which contains 35 articles, only addresses athlete safety “in a general way,” the report said.
The only article tackling athlete safety is Article 14, which states that the government will “ensure safety in sport (including knowledge about the appropriate usage of sport goods) and implement other necessary measures in order to prevent or contribute to the reduction of sport accidents or other external injuries or problems caused by sport.” HRW argued that the law “does not explicitly establish protection from violence or harassment as an element of athlete safety.”
Feature Image Screenshots via Human Rights Watch