During a recent conference at Japan’s National Institute for Fitness & Sports, Dr Mel Lang met with the founders of the Japan Judo Accident Victims Association (JJAVA). In this post their Executive Director, Mrs Keiko Kobayashi, explains why JJAVA was established and the important and inspiring work they are undertaking. We are delighted to support them and grateful for this contribution.

Over the 29 year period between 1983 and 2011, 118 students (age 12-18) died as a result of judo incidents in Japanese schools.

In 2004, my 15-year-old son was thrown by the teacher of the school judo club for 7 minutes continuously and choked until he lost consciousness. He had acute subdural hematoma and still suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury.

The school and the All Japan Judo Association (AJJA) declined to investigate my son’s case, saying “It was just an unfortunate accident.” When I started to examine the case, I discovered that many other families of victims of judo incidents had been faced with the authorities’ refusal to investigate.

In 2010, my husband and I established the Japan Judo Accident Victims Association (JJAVA http://judojiko.net/eng). Together with other member families, we have studied the causes of judo incidents, and have put out information on risks to children and proper safety procedures. We have organized seminars where academic experts talked about risks to and protection of children in sports. Our web site was also effective in disseminating information. The main goal of JJAVA is not to blame people who caused injuries but to analyze why the incidents have happened and propose ways to prevent repetition of these tragedies.

The government and AJJA have finally started to react by introducing accident prevention measures. To our delight there were no judo fatalities between 2012 and 2014. However this year, two students died and another student is in a persistent vegetative state as a result of judo injuries.

We are working cooperatively with the families of children who died or were injured as a result of incidents in other sports, including rugby, volleyball and kendo. Support and information from overseas is always a great encouragement for us.JJAVA

Mrs Keiko Kobayashi, Executive Director, Japan Judo Accident Victims Association (JJAVA)

Translated by Mrs Yoko Kasuga

Research into Cypriot sport has so far failed to explore the views of participants in relation to athlete welfare. My research explored the meaning of athlete welfare through the perspectives of child-athletes and others in the world of Cypriot athletics.

The child-athlete experience has been largely articulated through a positive discourse about involvement in sport and competition. With a prominent media focus supporting the ‘success’/‘winner-takes-all’ ethos of contemporary sport, physically and emotionally strenuous training can be legitimised in Cypriot sport.

Within this study the views of children and ex-athletes’ experiences highlight the underbelly of sport when the glamour/promise of winning fades. In such a context, positive experiences of being a child-athlete rely heavily on supportive and robust coach-athlete relationships that reflect mutually constructive interactions where listening and responding to child-athletes’ needs are uncompromised. Additional support by parents, schools, clubs and friends’ offering sympathy, empathy and continual care over the child-athletes’ efforts is vital. Maintaining athlete welfare-friendly environments means to consider and acknowledge the sense of togetherness and community desired by young athletes.

In contrast, welfare becomes less attainable when child-athletes experience anxieties, sport failures, physical injuries and other external challenges such as doping. In the absence of supportive interaction with the coach and other important individuals and institutions, the child athletes face disillusion and despair, and may even drop out from athletics prematurely. Coach indifference, school rejection or lack of understanding of pressures are clearly detrimental for child athletes. The school’s failure to recognise their efforts and the club’s approach to often ‘forgetting’ and neglecting the child athlete who fails to bring ‘good results’ make child athletes vulnerable and unable to tolerate and cope with the physical and emotional demands of their sport.

The meaning of welfare therefore needs to escape the confines of both the ‘prevention of abuse/harassment’ discourse, as well as that of a more instrumental response. It seems that relatively mundane interactive practices are important and if responded to appropriately can make tremendous differences to the quality of life child-athletes.

One of the central contributions of this study is to illustrate the multiple layers of individual agency demonstrated by child-athletes – traditionally viewed as passive and silent – in their everyday coping with the multiple challenges of participating in their sport.

Some of the child-athletes appeared to accept and reproduce their role within the ‘performance’ narrative favoured by competitive sports. Others took a partial position, conveying a more critical view of their sport-training milieu. But another group of child-athletes opposed the problematic features of sport, choosing to stand against them, even to the point of requesting another coach. These athletes reveal the lack of autonomy and freedom within the structures shaping their lives, as they often have to face severe emotional challenges such as having to prove that they are still ‘competent’ or ‘worthy’ in order to be appointed a new coach.

My research also illustrates that, from a northern European perspective, Mediterranean cultures, such as that in Cyprus, can appear to be characterised by more demonstrative, sensuous and, controversially, perhaps less ‘rational’ human interactions. Such everyday interactions are not just in the personal realm, but also extend into wider political, legal and sociocultural arenas that influence how institutions like sport view social interactions in practice.

These elements have a significant impact on the way Cypriot sport settings are organised and how human relationships function within them. Therefore, I argue that a potentially narrow set of regulations on physical contact and other social practices  designed primarily to prevent child (sexual) abuse (such as those found elsewhere in sport), may obstruct or prevent the more spontaneous and culturally valued behaviours within Cypriot sport. According to the participants in this study, such outcomes can negatively affect the coach-athlete relationship, eroding its humanistic dimension.

In order to cultivate child-athlete welfare, without creating narrow measures and reducing the high standards of competitive and performance sport levels, I suggest the creation of an empathetic and ‘friendly’ child-athlete educational approach. This approach could be adopted across a coaching and child-athlete educational program on issues of welfare that will promote reflexivity, the sense of embodiment and belonging, coach care and the feeling of achievement and improvement.

Overall my research offers an opportunity to suggest that the meanings of child-athlete welfare can be multifaceted even at local levels. Cultural, social and institutional differences constitute a challenging reality, and one that policy-makers should consider, as it seems that a ‘one size fits all’ approach may not function efficiently (Lang & Hartill, 2015). Focusing instead on understanding the functions of power can provide a first step in exploring how sociocultural influences relate to child abuse and protection in sport.

The central message of this study is to suggest a greater engagement with broad definitions of athlete welfare and to seek ways to cultivate positive, trustful, less paternalistic sporting environments where the child-athletes’ sense of uniqueness is valued and their participation in decision-making enhanced.

Lang, M & Hartill, M. (ed) (2015). Safeguarding, Child Protection and Abuse in Sport. London: Routledge.

Today two of our ambassadors, Joel and Stephen, worked alongside Duncan Craig from Survivors Manchester, speaking to young people (12-16) from the Manchester area about sexual exploitation and abuse (in sport & beyond). The Manchester United Foundation invited us to support them at their Street Reds event in Salford. We were delighted to work with Dawn, Dean and the Street Reds teams and this enabled us to reach lots of young people and engage them in discussion about CSE and safeguarding.

2015-10-28 15.20.052015-10-28 15.03.182015-10-28 13.33.202015-10-28 14.31.16This is a great model of using sport to enhance the lives of young people and we were delighted to participate. It was also fantastic to meet Sam and the young team from UNITY Radio who were absolutely inspiring and we were very pleased to be interviewed by them – hopefully broadcast soon!

Research Update: the Flanders’ approach to physical and sexual integrity of children in sport

Tine Vertommen

Criminologist, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Antwerp University Hospital (UZA) 

Recently, Flanders has taken significant steps towards safeguarding children in sport. In February 2012, the Flemish ministers responsible for Sport, Youth, Education and Welfare signed a commitment statement on the protection of children’s physical and sexual integrity (Vertommen, Tolleneer, Maebe, & De Martelaer, 2014). Since, Flemish sports authorities have taken action on different levels. The Flemish government commissioned a two-year project entitled “ethics in sport” to ICES, the International Center Ethics in Sports (2012-2014) and a consortium of four Flemish universities. The project consisted of policy support for sport organizations with regard to the implementation of prevention policies and instruments, as well as scientific research into four topics in sport ethics.

Flemish policy

A working group of sport federations, sexual health prevention experts and academics developed a policy framework on sexual and physical integrity in sport, consisting of eleven instruments at different policy levels (quality, prevention and reaction) and aiming at different stakeholders in youth sport.

One of the instruments in the framework is the ‘flag system’, an educational tool to assist sport stakeholders in the assessment of sexual behaviour involving children. The flag system is based on six assessment criteria: consent, equality, free will, age appropriateness, context appropriateness and self-respect. Rather than judging right or wrong, it gives a score for the six criteria and a global score (coloured flag from green, over yellow and red, to black) to assess situations in which children’s sexual integrity might be violated. Each flag colour and the corresponding degree of seriousness require an appropriate reaction towards the victim, the perpetrator and potential bystanders. At the moment, ICES and a pool of flag system coaches are delivering workshops all over Flanders to implement the tool (Vertommen, Stoeckel, Vandevivere, Van Den Eede, & De Martelaer, 2014). So far, reactions have been extremely positive as people say the tool is ‘very useful’ in their own practice and ‘has broken the ice and made them think about the issue from a different angle’.

Simultaneously, the new Flemish decree on ‘healthy and ethical sports’ came into force. The decree, highlights the topic of physical and sexual integrity of athletes, together with issues of social integrity and fair play, and encourages sport federations to take responsibility in preventing unwanted behavior and proactively ensuring children’s safety and integrity in sport.


The abovementioned project also consisted of four scientific projects, carried out by four Flemish universities. The University of Ghent surveyed ethical management in local club boards by interviewing relevant stakeholders (athletes, parents, coaches, board members). The Vrije Universiteit Brussels developed a dilemma-based educational workshop to promote prosocial behavior in youth coaches. The Catholic University Leuven listed international good practices in the prevention of sexual harassment and abuse in sport and conducted interviews with young elite athletes on risk factors. The fourth subproject is carried out by Tine Vertommen at the University of Antwerp, and will be presented a bit more in detail here.

Tine is performing a quantitative prevalence study on interpersonal violence against children in sport in Flanders (Belgium) and the Netherlands. In this prevalence study, a representative sample of 4043 Flemish and Dutch adults is retrospectively surveyed about their experiences with psychological, physical and sexual violence while sporting as a child younger than 18 years old.

The questionnaire is based on internationally validated childhood trauma questionnaires and adapted to the specific context of sport. The second research question focuses on the long term consequences of these adverse childhood experiences in later adult life. These will be determined by internationally validated clinical questionnaires on psychopathology (BSI-18 on anxiety, depression and somatic disorders) and quality of life (WHO QOL BREF).

The results of this study will give an insight into the prevalence of psychological, physical and sexual violence in youth sport and the consequences of these experiences in later adult life. The first results are to be published by the end of 2015 in ‘Child Abuse & Neglect – the International Journal’.


ICES is recently appointed as the expert center for ethics in sport by the Flemish minister of Sport. During the next three years (2015-2017) ICES will receive governmental funding to support policy development and practical support to all Flemish sport organizations. Additionally, ICES has successfully led the European ‘preparatory actions’ project to stimulate the individual empowerment of young athletes and a conducive ethical climate in sport organizations, which has resulted in a ‘Safeguarding Youth Sport’ booklet aiming at awareness raising in young elite athletes and their entourage.

Meanwhile, the topic is firmly on the policymakers’ agenda and local initiatives regarding to safeguarding children in sport become more numerous and successful. The positive (soft) approach, chosen by the Flemish authorities, is proving to be (cautious but) fruitful, as gradually more athletes, coaches and board members are ‘getting on board’.


ICES,  (2014). Eindrapport Overheidsopdracht Ethisch Verantwoord Sporten: Vertsrekken van expertise op het vlak van ethisch verantwoord sporten, met inbegrip van de problematiek aangaande integriteit, seksueel misbruik en geweld. Ghent: ICES.

Vertommen, T., Tolleneer, J., Maebe, G. & De Martelaer, K. (2014) Preventing sexual abuse and transgressive behaviour in Flemish sport. In Lang, M. & Hartill, M (Eds): Safeguarding, Child Protection and Abuse in Sport: International Perspectives in Research, Policy and Practice. London: Routledge.

Vertommen, T., Stoeckel, J. T., Vandevivere, L., Van Den Eede, F., & De Martelaer, K. (2014). A green flag for the Flag System? Towards a child protection policy in Flemish sport. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 1–17. doi:10.1080/19406940.2014.947305

Sport Respects Your Rights campaigned at the Street Games event held at the Etihad Stadium on the 24th August. The event was a huge success, attracting over 1000 young people aged 14 – 25, all with the common interest of maintaining a safe environment for young people to participate in sports activities.

Two representatives from Sport Respects Your Rights shared videos, leaflets and wristbands with many Street Games participants. The event enabled us to connect with other sporting programmes as well as the Mayor of Manchester and other local council officials.

The day ended on a high note with future events being planned in order to spread awareness, recruit new campaign leaders and get closer to protecting all children from abuse and maltreatment in and through sport.

Following on from the success of our original animation, used by many of our fellow teams across Europe to promote and explain the original project, Sport Respects Your Rights UK has now produced a second short animation to explain the focus of our work and why we exist. Have a look and please spread within your networks. Thanks!


Sport Respects Your Rights campaigned at the Street Games event held at the Etihad Stadium in Sport City, Manchester, on the 24th August. The event was a huge success, attracting over 1000 young people aged 14 – 25, all with the common interest of maintaining a safe environment for young people to participate in sports activities.

Two representatives from Sport Respects Your Rights, supported by Street Games volunteers, shared videos, leaflets and wristbands with many young people. The event enabled us to connect with other sporting programmes as well as the Mayor of Manchester and other local council officials. The day ended on a high note with future events being planned in order to spread awareness, recruit new campaign leaders and get closer to protecting all children from abuse and maltreatment in and through sport.SRYRatSGFest_LordMayor

On 30th July two of our ambassadors (Stephen and Nick) delivered a full day of workshops training and activities for the Street Games young advisors at the Salford Reds stadium. It was a great day and provided space for the exchange of views and ideas between very motivated and committed young people. We look forward to working with Street Games again. Check out a short video of the day.

youth meeting
On 8th June some of the youth leaders (Laura Swaffer, Stephen Mansfield, Joel Donnelly, Joe Moore and Ashleigh Morgan) met to assign roles and make a further impact to the project. The meeting discussed a lot of areas to move the project forward and roles were delegated in relation to promotion, fundraising and admin. Ideas were shared about new ways to promote our key messages and spread awareness as well as recruiting new youth members.

Much of the focus was on the production of a resource pack: something for the youth leaders to use in workshop deliveries as well as external parties to look at for a greater understanding. We came up with a structure and a rough idea of content as a foundation to build from and this will be approved by our supporting bodies, the RFL and Survivors Manchester.

We also discussed the importance of providing accurate information and statistics. A plan of action was drawn up and we are very excited to begin this resource pack. As a team we are very excited with what we can do and this meeting provided an excellent platform for us to grow with the project.

In recent years, the voices of victims or ‘survivors’ of childhood sexual abuse have been heard far more frequently than at any point in the past. However, in comparison, there have been very few public disclosures of child sexual abuse and exploitation in relation to sports settings. If the sports community is to be properly informed and educated about the issue of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation, thus better equipped to prevent it, the telling of such stories is vital. Read more…