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Old 23rd October 2017, 12:19   #1
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Default British sports scandals show that abuse is being challenged

British sports scandals show that abuse is being challenged

by Simon Kuper
October 21, 2017

Mark Sampson, the 35-year-old former coach of England’s women’s national football team, is the face of the latest governance scandal to hit British sport.

A parliamentary committee heard this week that Mr Sampson had told his player Eni Aluko, 30, to make sure her Nigerian relatives did not bring the Ebola virus to a match, and had asked a mixed-race player how often she had been arrested.

Mr Sampson has denied the allegations but the Football Association has apologised to both footballers.

The scandal has also tarnished the governing body. Ms Aluko, a lawyer, accused the FA’s chief executive Martin Glenn of behaviour “bordering on blackmail” for threatening to withhold a payment due to her unless she publicly stated that the FA was not institutionally racist.

Mr Glenn denied the allegation. MPs also chastised Greg Clarke, the FA’s chairman, for dismissing claims of “institutional racism, institutional bullying” as “fluff”.

National coaches in several British sports, from bobsleigh to canoeing, are now being investigated for bullying, sexual assault and racism. This follows last year’s revelations of widespread child sexual abuse in the academies of professional football clubs.

Roger Pielke Jr, an expert on sports governance at the University of Colorado, said, “It’s not just in the UK. The issues are endemic across sports.” What is new is that abuse by coaches is increasingly being challenged.

A power imbalance between coach and athlete is almost inevitable, said Mr Pielke. Most coaches are middle-aged white men (even in women’s football), whereas many athletes are young, female and non-white. Athletes usually need a coach’s goodwill to succeed.

Sporting careers are highly competitive, especially in smaller British sports, where funding can depend on winning Olympic medals. The set-up encourages abuse of power, much as Hollywood’s structures allowed the older white film producer Harvey Weinstein to sexually harass younger women.

Sports’ governing bodies have so far shown little awareness of these issues, said Jayne Caudwell, a sports expert at Bournemouth University. Sepp Blatter, president of the global football authority Fifa until 2016, once urged female players to wear “tighter shorts”.

Ms Caudwell said: “Sport has been ruled for so long by white men who just see the sports person as a performer. There’s a lack of diversity at that level, so there’s a lack of understanding of different groups. There’s been horrible abuse.”

Problems related to diversity often take sporting bodies by surprise. The FA fired Mr Sampson last month after belatedly discovering his “inappropriate and unacceptable” behaviour with female players in a previous job managing Bristol Academy.

Then the FA officials appearing before the parliamentary committee admitted they had not heard of Lucy Ward, who last year won a high-profile case against her former employers Leeds United over sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Carrie Dunn, an independent academic who studies female football, accuses the FA of inattention to the women’s game. And officials who come from outside sports, such as Mr Glenn, previously chief executive of United Biscuits, may be discouraged by established coaches from interfering with their work.

But Ms Caudwell said that media were now focusing more on these issues. There has been more coverage of women’s football since the 2015 World Cup, and more coverage of sexual abuse in sport since the scandal in British football academies.

Media and official inquiries have recently revealed various types of coaching misbehaviour in several British sports.

UK Sport cut British Bobsleigh’s funding this summer over alleged bullying and discrimination by coaches. Similar allegations at British Cycling, British Canoeing and British Swimming have prompted independent investigations.
Bullying allegations have prompted investigations in British Swimming, British Cycling and British Canoeing © Getty

Past allegations of sexism by British female cyclists are belatedly making headlines. In the US, more than 100 women and girls have accused Larry Nassar of sexual assault during his time as US gymnastics team doctor. He has pleaded guilty to federal child-pornography charges.

Worldwide, more female athletes are challenging discrimination. “Women’s football has been grotesquely underfunded throughout its history,” said Ms Dunn.

Last year, five US women’s soccer internationals filed a complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming pay discrimination by the country’s soccer federation. The Argentine women’s football team is on strike, while five Brazilian internationals have retired in protest at their federation.

Norway this month became the first football federation to commit to paying male and female internationals equally.

In Britain, Ms Caudwell said that the traditional authoritarian coaching style featuring lots of shouting, perhaps modelled on old-time army sergeant-majors, is fading as younger coaches are trained in modern pedagogy. But the sweeping away of old practices may reveal more abuses.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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