Last week, it was reported that the US Department of Justice had initiated a wide-spread investigation into sexual abuse in U.S. Olympic sports organizations as well as potential financial and business misconduct in the system.
This was triggered by the Larry Nassar scandal in the USA Gymnastics.
The USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor was sentenced recently to life in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of girls in his care for more than three decades.
The Michigan State University were also slapped with a record USD 4.5 million by the federal government for its mishandling of the case.
The problem is, however, more deeply entrenched in the system.
The FBI had in fact received a report of possible abuse in 2015, but did nothing for almost a year and USA Gymnastics chose to keep quiet despite having knowledge of the matter.
It was only after another victim, Rachel Denhollander publicly accused Nassar in the Indianapolis Star in 2016 that the matter gained some traction.
Another Olympic skating coach. Richard Callaghan was banned for life from coaching due to sexual misconduct involving minor athletes by the skating association in August this year.
Such cases are being highlighted on an increasing frequency, especially in the West, much of it due to the #Me Too movement.
Sexual abuse on young sports wards is not something that is confined to certain countries only. And it is not something that is confined to the girls, young boys are also often victims of such abuses.
Many choose not to reveal such abuses, preferring to suffer in silence, allowing the perpetrators to roam free and abusing even more victims.
Malaysia is not exempted from this malady.
A YouGov Omnibus survey recently found that 36 per cent of Malaysian women have endured some form of sexual harassment while the figure was at 17 per cent with the men. Sexual assault accounts for 59 per cents of the cases.
And these are figures affecting adults and not children. More alarmingly almost half of those harassed do not reveal the same to anyone. The main reasons being embarrassed, fearing repercussion as well as the feeling that no one would be able to help them resolve it.
Imagine a young child in the same position and how would that child respond to such abuses.
A Canadian investigation recently revealed that at least 222 coaches across the country had been convicted of sexual offences from 1998-2018 involving more than 600 victims under the age of 18. More than 30 trials against coaches are being prosecuted currently.
In Malaysia, parents send their kids to numerous sporting classes, be it football, badminton, martial arts, golf. In many cases these children are left in the care of coaches for several hours.
What was the vetting process done to ensure that these coaches were not monsters in disguise? Are our children equipped with the knowledge on how to protect themselves against any sexual abuses?
The South Korean humans rights commission announced their plans earlier this year to interview possibly thousands of adult and child athletes about a culture of abuse in sports after a string of female athletes alleged they had been raped or assaulted by their coaches.
It was triggered after two-time Olympic short-track speed-skating champion Shim Suk-hee accused her former coach Cho Jae-beom of repeatedly raping her since she was only 17. The coach is now serving a 10-month prison for physically assaulting athletes, including Shim.
The year-long investigation by the commission would cover 50 sports and would include children competing from primary school upwards.
Should Malaysia also wait for such abuses to be reported before looking into ways to prevent any such abuses?
Ironically, the Korean human rights commission had recommended various safeguards to the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KOC) back in 2010 but without proper implementation, the cases of abuse had only worsened.
Malaysia has had its fair share of sexual abuse cases in the past including the alleged gang rape of a female official by three handball players during the 2013 Sukma. They were acquitted after the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case.
There was also incident of the the national diving coach who was sacked for allegedly allowing a “toxic” culture that led to violence and bullying in the sport. His assistant was charged for rape but was acquitted after the defence raised reasonable doubts in the prosecutions case.
Both instances may seem isolated, but Malaysia needs a better study and investigation to prevent sexual abuse in sports.
It is definitely not up to the children to protect themselves. We need to ensure that the right safety policies are in place and provide parents with the tools they need to better protect young athletes.
It should not be a case of “out sight out of mind”. Prevention is better than cure.