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Sports chiefs blow whistle on sex abuse

Swiss skier, Sonja Nef, helped launch the campaign Keystone

The Swiss Olympic Association has launched a campaign to crack down on sexual harassment and abuse in sports.

This content was published on March 3, 2004 - 19:55

The aim is to make young athletes more aware of the issue and to limit the potential for abuse by coaches and trainers.

As many as 5,000 children and young people are the victims of sexual harassment in Swiss sports clubs every year, according to Mira, an organisation that deals with sexual harassment outside home and the workplace.

Most abuses are committed by trainers and staff members, Mira says, with paedophiles accounting for one-sixth of all cases.

The campaign was prompted by a number of serious cases of sexual abuse which have recently come to light.

“There was a lot of pressure from parliamentarians for us to take up this issue and to step up our efforts,” Marco Blatter, CEO of the Swiss Olympic Association, told swissinfo.

Abuse

The move is part of a broader “fairplay” campaign being spearheaded by the Association and the Federal Office for Sports, which also seeks to tackle violence and substance abuse in sports.

The campaign, which is due to run for up to six years, has been endorsed by a number of professional Swiss athletes, including Swiss skier, Sonja Nef.

“Sexual abuse is the worst thing that can happen to a child,” Nef told swissinfo. “It’s sad that it happens in sports too. But it’s a taboo that has to be broken and people have to know how to deal with it.”

Blatter explained that initial efforts would focus on raising awareness of the problem, both among sports professionals, young people and parents. An information website was launched on Wednesday, and a poster and advertising campaign is scheduled for the autumn.

A special panel of experts has also been set up with the aim of drawing up a set of guidelines.

Limits

“When a trainer physically touches an athlete or a gymnast – which is obviously often the case – it’s not easy to tell whether a boundary has been crossed. So we have to teach young people very early on where to set the limit.

“One problem is that for ambitious young athletes, the trainer is the only person who can help them fulfil their dreams, so they are quite [dependent] on them.”

The campaign also aims to train staff members in sports clubs and parents to become more vigilant.

“Perhaps we can’t change a coach’s attitude but we can make other people more watchful, so that they can tell the trainer to stop any inappropriate behaviour,” Blatter explained.

Monitor

Urs Hofmann, the head of Mira and a member of the specialist panel, stresses that parents also have a responsibility to monitor their children, as many abuses are committed outside of sports clubs.

“In many cases, children are sexually abused when they are alone with their trainers, perhaps in the trainer’s home,” he told swissinfo.

“But it’s no use having a campaign that just pours hate on abusers - that’s not constructive. What we need is prevention [and information]”.

The cost of the campaign is estimated at SFr350,000 ($269,000). Only a third of the budget has been secured so far and the Swiss Olympic Association has issued a call for more sponsors.

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock

Key facts

There are an estimated 5,000 cases of sexual abuse against young athletes each year.
The campaign aims to inform young people, parents and sports trainers about the issue.
A high-profile poster and advertising campaign will be launched in the autumn.

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In brief

A number of cases of abuse have come to light in recent years.

In 1997, a gymnastics coach in Möriken was found guilty of sexually abusing young girls.

Since then, a number of other coaches have been convicted for similar crimes.

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