Japanese parents and sports coaches need to stop hitting children

Nikkei -- Aug 02
The shocking revelations contained in the report "I Was Hit So Many Times I Can't Count," released by Human Rights Watch on July 20 exposing the abuse of child athletes in Japan, came as no surprise to those of us close to the world of Japanese sports administration.

Supported by meticulous interviews and questionnaire surveys from actual victims, the startling amount of detail collected by the report's authors make its findings impossible to ignore.

As Japan prepares to host the XXXII Olympiad, commonly known as Tokyo 2020, perhaps the report's most important conclusion is that the abuse of child athletes in Japan is fundamentally a human rights issue, and it must be addressed as such.

Up until now, the issue of corporal punishment in Japanese sports has followed a familiar pattern. First, a number of painful incidents come to light and are featured prominently by the media. Then, the so-called "fire extinguisher" approach is used to squelch the scandal.

Those responsible are removed from positions of influence; declarations of "zero tolerance" are made; special hotlines are set up to handle complaints. So why don't these actions lead to a fall in the number of abuse incidents?

The reality is that many coaches and parents in Japan regard corporal punishment as a necessary part of training, with no understanding that physical abuse can be detrimental to the future development of their children. The fact that so many great educators, who care deeply about the growth of children, still believe in the effectiveness of corporal punishment underscores how complex this problem is.

My hope is that with the HRW report receiving so much international attention, we can finally begin to make real progress.

The first thing Japan should do is follow HRW's recommendation to establish a Japan Center for Safe Sport, an independent body tasked solely with addressing child abuse in sport. Legislation enacted overseas, such as the Safe Sport Authorization Act in the U.S., as well as the United Kingdom's system of child protection, are important models that Japan should follow. Because hosting the Olympics means that Japan is interested in good sports governance, it should not be too difficult for the government to set up a mechanism by which child-athletes can report abuses without fear.

Takuya Yamazaki, a Japanese Attorney-at-Law, is the founder of Field-R Law Offices, a niche sports and entertainment legal practice based in Tokyo.

- Nikkei