Sport Safety: Protecting School Pupils from Abuse by Sport Coaches

A Lagos-based football academy manager, Mr. Frank Darlington was arrested on November 17, 2016, for having carnal knowledge of three boys in his academy. According to media reports, Darlington, who manages Soccer Warriors Football Academy in the Agege area of the state, slept with many of the boys, some of whom were less than 18 years, “three or four times a week” for a year. He also did not use protection, exposing the children to the risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases. If this is what obtains in a training facility where young boys only spend a fraction of their time, what should we expect from physical education trainers in schools that spend more time with children?


School sport is a part of physical education training, which has been defined as a systematic instruction in sports training and practice, gymnastics and exercises. Because of the importance of physical education to the development of the student, school sport has become increasingly more popular and relevant. However, sexual and other forms of abuse of minors which has seen a recent spike in the country, has made discussions about protecting the children even more relevant.


The student protection in sport is concerned with keeping all young people underage from abuse or harassment. The physical education instructor within the spectrum are in the best position to be able to detect signs of abuse that may occur among the students within their care. They are also able to recognize signs of abuse and know what to do when they feel that abuse has taken place. However, when people holding such positions of responsibility become the perpetrators of abuse, it becomes a bigger problem.


What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is any action, or series of actions that lead to harm, the potential for harm, or any threat of harm to a child. Abuse may take several forms. Abuse includes physical harm, emotional or psychological harm or sexual molestation or exploitation.


What is Child Protection?


The term child protection defines the guidelines, procedures, and policies that provide protection for children from both intentional and un‑intentional harm.


Each community has different customs and ways of raising children, so what is considered to be abuse in one country might not be considered to be so in another. In many countries, any physical punishment of children at any age is abusive and against the law. We must begin to realize that even though some practices are culturally acceptable, they may still be harmful to children.


The first responsibility as a Physical Education Instructor is to ensure the safety of those children in their care. As a teacher, the welfare of the children are paramount. Physical Educationist are meant to create an environment where children will be safe, protected from harm, discrimination and any treatment that is degrading. The rights and wishes of children must be respected while under the care of such coaches.


Schools have legal, moral and ethical obligations to protect all young people under the age of 18 that attend institutions as care givers. It is necessary to draw a line between abuse and corporal punishment where thousands of children are abused daily under the guise of punishment.


But it is unfortunate to observe that some teachers are not really educationists, as they know little about child psychology and the principles of teaching and learning since they branched into the teaching line just to make ends meet. The child’s right act clearly forbids battery, physical assault and abuse in any form.


Different Forms of Child Abuse

There are four major categories in abusing a child:

  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse


Abuse against children may take place anywhere, and that includes on the field or in the locker room areas. Teachers may unintentionally be engaged in abusive behaviors.


How can NEGLECT occur in school sports?


Neglect on the playing field includes such acts as the failure to provide a student with their basic physical and emotional necessities, harming them or putting them at risk of harm.


One example of neglect in school sport would occur if a team’s best player has an injury. Keeping that student on the field, playing just to win the game despite the injury is an example of child neglecting students in sports.


Other examples of neglect include not ensuring that students have the proper gear and kits necessary for play, not checking the playing field for the safety of the students before play begins, or making sure that weather conditions are adequate for the playing of football.


How can EMOTIONAL ABUSE occur in school sports?


Emotional abuse includes any behaviour that has the effect of psychologically harming students or young pupils. Some of the more common examples that we find in football as an example of sport include:

  • Forcing a student to participate in a sport
  • Not speaking to a student after he/she plays poorly in a game or in practice
  • Asking a student why he/she played poorly when it meant so much to you
  • Hitting a student’s when his/her play disappoints
  • Yelling at the student for not playing well or for losing
  • Giving a student a negative nickname based on their play
  • Punishing a student for not playing well or for losing


How can PHYSICAL ABUSE occur in school sports?


Physical abuse in school sports occurs when there is non-accidental injury and/or harm to a student or young person, caused by another person such as a parent, care-giver, Physical Education instructor or even older students. For example, physically punishing a young pupil for losing a game by hitting, throwing equipment, pushing or shoving are all examples of physical abuse.


How can SEXUAL ABUSE occur in school sports?


Sexual abuse of students includes any sexual act or sexual threat, intimidation or coercion imposed on a student. Sexual abuse may include inappropriate touching/fondling during coaching.

Exposing student to pornography or sexually explicit materials (e.g. during social events).

Sex-ting. Showing a student private parts or asking to see his/her private parts and also using sexually inappropriate language to a student.


According to Barrister Njideka Obi, the founder of Safer, Smarter Children Incorporated, a child protection advocacy group, there are fundamental safety rules in teaching children and detecting sexual predators.


“When it comes to child safety with regards to coaches, there are fundamental safety rules to teach the student and also there are red flags that tell a parent that a coach is a sexual predator,” she said.


Identifying those red flags, Obi said that parents should watch out for Physical Education Instructor that are excessively attentive to a students and offers spending extra time with the children.


She also noted that a teacher that buys a student expensive gifts and tells the child to keep it a secret should be watched.


Obi stated that parents themselves should empower their children with safety rules.


She said, “Parents should empower their children with safety rules to be able to recognize sexual abuse, to react to it and to report it.”


“Children should also be taught about the part of their body which are private and if anyone tries to touch it, they should yell at that person and say, ‘No! Don’t touch my private part.’


“This is very empowering; the sexual predator will know that this is not a child to be messed with.”


Furthermore, Obi urged parents to imbibe in their children a ‘no secrecy’ rule, saying that secrecy is a major ingredient for sexual abuse to occur.

“As coaches work with children on a regular basis, you may be the person a child chooses to talk to about something happening in their life.


“It is important that you know how to respond to a child in danger, and how to share information appropriately with those who can help.


“Remember he/she doesn’t want to be caught so if he knows that a child will talk, he will stay away from such child.” she said.

The Physical Education teacher of Lagos-based Ikotun Girls High School, Mr. Temitope Ajayi, described molestation of students as unethical and an abuse of trust.

“It is actually unethical for a Physical Education Teacher to act in such manner where a student is placed under his care.

“That educationist is meant to be a parent and also a mentor to that child and not to be molesting such student,” he said.

Commenting on what parents should note, Mr. Ajayi said that parents should be very close to the children and also to whoever is handling their children.

“I believe with such closeness, if there are any changes and there are also sign of an unnecessary behavior, the parent can easily call on the coach.

“What I do in my school here (is that) I encourage the parents to be part of what we are doing: they come with us to the stadium, (and) we contact them on whatever programme we are embarking on.

“Anything that is outside the school curriculum, I don’t involve myself in it,” he said.

Explaining how government is involved, Obi said the authorities pay lip service to implementation of laws governing the child rights and protection.

She noted that the key is to educate the students so that they can take charge of their safety.

“Child rights advocates are advocating for more stringent punishment for pedophiles to deter others from molesting children but has been not enforced yet,” she said.

In his own take, Ajayi said the government should register coaches working in the education sector for proper and easy monitoring.

He said, “In other countries once you are not registered as a coach you are not allowed to take charge of any child.

“If one is registered with any sport, I mean not only in football, the government can trace such coach for any unethical act.”

“Sport is not taken seriously in Nigeria and this is an industry where government can make millions, thereby employing lots of people as is being done in other countries.”