Children and young people become involved in the world of sport at a variety of different levels ranging from local level grassroots clubs to national championships to international mega sporting events. Within each of these contexts, given that such events can be specific to children and young people, one would be forgiven for assuming that children’s rights and child protection concerns have traditionally been at the forefront of all sporting initiatives for children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC), the most highly ratified international treaty worldwide, promotes and protects both the civil and political rights of children as well as their economic, social, and cultural rights. The holistic protection provided by this international treaty means that it applies to all domains of children’s lives including the world of sport. Furthermore, while sport does not receive specific mention in the CRC, reference is made to the right to play under Article 31 CRC and sport has been viewed as a means of achieving this right. The importance of ensuring that children’s rights are protected in the world of sport is evident from the work of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which is one of the few organizations to explicitly address this issue with the publication of the Children’s Rights in Sport Principles. To date, general academic literature using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies has laid bare the reality which is that while there is an awareness of the need to both protect children and promote their rights in sport, there is a clear absence of uniform and consistent approaches as well as standard regulation at all levels. This is evident from existing general literature in the field, from a wide variety of disciplines, which tends to be specific to particular jurisdictions and focuses on issues specific to that jurisdiction.
Children’s Rights and Sport: A General Overview
Despite the predominant status afforded the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at international level, according to Eliasson 2017, the CRC itself has not been found to be a meaningful document even at a policy level for the world of sport. Indeed, as David 2005 points out, sport is an area which has traditionally failed to incorporate children’s rights to the extent envisaged under international law. While abuses of children’s rights occur outside sport, the world of sport has not been immune to cases of child sexual abuse, child labor, trafficking, and the sale of children. Indeed, many examples of children’s rights violations in the sports context have been explored in the research. In competitive sport, David 2005 notes the extent to which the best interests of children can be protected has been questioned, while Yilmaz, et al. 2018 questions the protection of this right in a specific context—that of football transfers. Such abuses may be magnified due to the culture of a particular nation as explored by Hong 2004 for example, or due to the nature of the sport itself as highlighted by Grenfell and Rinehart 2003 in the context of youth figure skating and Turkeri-Bozkurt and Bulgu 2018 in relation to hockey. Yet as highlighted by Ohman and Quennerstedt 2017, some countries have recognized the value of sport in the promotion of children’s rights through the potential direct benefits conferred on children. Slutzky and Simpkins 2009 has identified the importance of sport in improving the self-concept and self-esteem of high-risk children, while Kidd and Donnelly 2000 have identified its potential role in promoting the human rights of athletes including a more basic right to participate in sport and physical activity. In order to ensure that children experience an organized sport that meets their needs and expectations, De Martelaer, et al. 2002 argues that they should have a meaningful input into new and existing sports initiatives, consistent with the child’s right to be heard. Moreover, Fenoglio and Taylor 2014 explores how specific initiatives have been developed in some countries which aim to support the protection of children’s rights in sport ahead of the expectations or demands of adults. The report Alexander, et al. 2011 on children and organized sport in the United Kingdom has highlighted the positive experiences that children have of sport in general. However, this report noted that there was also a litany of more negative and harmful experiences.
Alexander, K., A. Stafford, and R. Lewis. The Experiences of Children Participating in Organised Sport in the UK. London: NSPCC, 2011.
This is the report of a three-year study involving over six thousand young children on their experiences of participating in organized sport in the United Kingdom.
David, P. Human Rights in Sport: A Critical Review of Children’s Rights in Competitive Sports. UK: Routledge, 2005.
This is the only book of its kind dedicated to a detailed consideration of children’s rights in the context of sport.
De Martelaer, K., J. Van Hoecke, P. de Knop, et al. “Marketing in Organized Sport: Participation, Expectations and Experiences of Children.” European Sport Management Quarterly 2 (2002): 113–134.
In this piece, the authors argue that children should be consulted about each new or existing sports initiatives to be sure that what is organized for them really meets their wishes and expectations. From a management perspective, as well as from a pedagogical viewpoint, the experiences of young participants as clients of organized sport are of paramount importance.
Eliasson, I. “The Gap between Formalised Children’s Rights and Children’s Real Lives in Sport.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 52.4 (2017): 470–496.
Focusing on the Swedish context, this paper examines the attitudes of child athletes and adult coaches regarding the incorporation of the UNCRC into Swedish sport policy through the Swedish Sports Confederation policy document “What Sport Wants’” (2009).
Fenoglio, R., and W. G. Taylor. “From Winning-at-All-Costs to Give Us Back Our Game: Perspective Transformation in Youth Sport Coaches.” Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy 19.2 (2014): 191–204.
Give Us Back Our Game (GUBOG) began as an emergent grassroots soccer campaign in the United Kingdom in 2006 as an approach to youth sport which aimed to develop sporting talent while, at the same time, fulfilling the human rights and dignity of children in its various programs. This paper examines the processes of critical reflection, rational discourse, and action affecting a perspective transformation from a reified, outcome-oriented, winning-at-all-costs approach to the more child-centered, GUBOG approach.
Grenfell, C., and R. Rinehart. “Skating on Thin Ice: Human Rights in Youth Figure Skating.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport (2003): 79–97.
This study was part of a larger ethnographic project which examines human rights issues in youth figure skating, from both the skaters’ and the adults’ points of view.
Hong, F. “Innocence Lost: Child Athletes in China.” Sport in Society 7.3 (2004): 338–354.
This examines the relationship between child athletes and human rights in the context of culture and politics in contemporary China.
Kidd, B., and P. Donnelly. “Human Rights in Sport.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 35.2 (2000): 131–148.
This article focuses on the human rights of athletes, including the basic right to participate in sport and physical activity development. It also examines the potential of human rights initiatives in sports.
Ohman, M., and A. Quennerstedt. “Questioning the No-Touch Discourse in Physical Education from a Children’s Rights Perspective.” Sport, Education and Society 22.3 (2017): 305–320.
Questioning the rationality of “no-touch policies” in relation to physical contact between teachers and students in the context of physical education (PE) in schools, this article explores previous research which has drawn attention to how a discourse of child protection is starting to affect how physical contact is viewed in PE practice.
Slutzky, C., and S. Simpkins. “The Link between Children’s Sport Participation and Self-Esteem: Exploring the Mediating Role of Sport Self-Concept.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 10 (2009): 381–389.
This investigation develops prior research on sport participation and self-esteem by exploring sport self-concept as a mediator, examining the time spent in team and individual sports separately, and focusing on elementary school-aged participants.
Turkeri-Bozkurt, H., and N. Bulgu. “Is Injury Part of Sports? A Children’s Rights Perspective.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 55.1 (2018): 98–114.
This study highlights the link between injuries and violations of children’s rights where those children receive training in volleyball as licensed athletes. It is hypothesized that the results of this study will be taken into consideration in policy development and training planning with regard to the violation of child rights.
UNICEF. Children’s Rights in Sport Principles. 2d ed. Japan Committee for UNICEF, December 2018.
This document developed by the Japan Committee for UNICEF together with UNICEF, sets out ten principles which should underpin the promotion and protection of children’s rights in sport.
Yilmaz, S., J. Esson, P. Darby, E. Drywood, and C. Mason. “Children’s Rights and the Regulations on the Transfer of Young Players in Football.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 55.1 (2018): 115–124.
This article discusses the FIFA regulations regarding the mobility (Regulations on the Statute and Transfer of Players) and representation (Regulations on Working with Intermediaries) of minors in player recruitment processes through the lens of the UNCRC.
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