Late last year, a volunteer coach with the Wheelchair Tennis Malaysia (WTM) was charged and convicted of sodomising underage ball-boys.
The association while using his services for almost seven years, hardly knew anything about the coach’s personal life. All that they knew was that the culprit ran a small tennis academy training players and ball boys in Segambut.
He was even appointed as the head ball person for the Malaysian team during the Asean Para Games 2017. Ironically, he was arrested on the closing day of the event and is currently serving a four year sentence.
While this may be an isolated case, it is a problem that could happen anytime, anywhere.
Malaysians send their kids to various sporting classes without a care of the background of the coach.
The only criteria that matters being whether the coach was popular or could push their kids to excel in the sport.
In the hopes that the coach can take their child to sporting excellence, parents give coaches too much latitude with their children. Bear in mind that abuse commonly occurs within a relationship of trust or responsibility.
Children are more also likely to keep quiet of any form of sexual harassment or abuse.
Participation in sport has many physical, psychological and social benefits for the child but it can also have negative impact in such cases.
While children just want to have fun by playing sports, they also find themselves shoved into extremely competitive arena that takes little cognizance for their well-being.
Child abuse in sports can arise in a number of different contexts including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect.
Is the Malaysian sporting environment safe for our children?
All sports organisations have the responsibility to provide safe environments for children. However, virtually none of the national sports associations in Malaysia seem to have specific guidelines or safeguards on this issue.
Malaysia did enact the Child Act 2001 as a continuation of being a state party to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Many government programmes and initiatives have been undertaken at the national and district levels to implement the policy and address priority child protection issues.
But, it has not been given the same amount of importance in the sporting arena.
Sports bodies and even private sports gymnasiums also have the tendency to sweep any cases of child abuse under the carpet to protect their own brand.
That was the case with one mainstream sports club that quietly sacked their coach after a parent of an abused kid confronted the coach at the training centre last year.
Victims tend to shy away from complaining as they fear being ostracized by the society, especially friends and family.
They fear of not being able pursue their sporting career while the perpetrator is shielded by the power he wields.
Take the case of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was jailed 60 years recently. He was not caught for decades. He had sexually assaulted more than 100 young girls over a three decade period he was with the association.
Sports association in Malaysia also don’t seem to have any comprehensive plan to assist victims other than seeking police assistance.
In the United Kingdom, the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) was set up to support and monitor national standards for safeguarding children in sports within sports associations.
Malaysian children involved in sports, some as young as three or four, deserve to have better protection and safeguards.
Parents and sports associations must be prepared to put the interests of the children first instead of only advocating winning and results.