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Greater Protection of Children From Abuse in Sports Is Needed

U.S. Should Implement U.K. Model

Sports: last bastian of male privilege?

Social scientists, as well as many sports participants, fans and parents of children involved in sport, have been increasingly concerned with the way that sport has become dominated by corporate business and commercial media interests. In addition, researchers have argued that, true to its patriarchal origins, as wider society makes steps towards gender equality, sport is being cultivated as a last outpost of male privilege and ‘backlash' against feminism. Many social scientists have written on this topic, but all too rarely have these issues been considered in the context of childhood.

The ‘new social studies of childhood' has argued for over a decade that children are not simply objects to be moulded or incomplete beings, but citizens in their own right. Such thinking, highly critical of psychology-based, developmental models of childhood (where children are evaluated according to prescribed age-related stages and their ability to negotiate these successfully), is dominant within sport.

This relatively new approach sees childhood as a ‘social construct' and has accompanied such groundbreaking developments as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) . In this model children are perceived to have specific rights, particularly, to have a voice and to participate in decisions that affect them - the notion of listening to children has never before been so prominent in academic and political discussions of children's spaces. Readers of these pages will not need to be told that this presents something of a challenge for organized children's sports and many adults that populate them.

Indeed, it may be argued that within adult-organized children's sports, a ‘discourse of control' dominates - that is to say that children are expected to do as they are told and not question the authority of adults, especially those endowed with the endorsement of a governing body (i.e. coaching qualifications). Of course, what many parents know is that such ‘badges' say little about a person's ability to create a positive learning environment or treat children with dignity. All too often, such badges symbolize an allegiance to the sport (or to personal advancement) rather than the welfare of children.