Safety on and off the track. Are we leaving our athletes in safe hands?

In the words of Youth and Sports Minister, Syed Saddiq: “Sports is the agent of unity and as Malaysians, we should be proud of that.” echoes the sentiment of national pride for the art of athleticism in Malaysia.

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing effort to develop young athletes in a variety of sports. In the last decade of Malaysian sports, we looked up to household names like badminton legend Lee Chong Wei, diving star Pandelela Rinong and squash princess Nicol David as they brought home glory and fame for our beloved country.

These national heroes have made us proud time and again with their haul of trophies and gold medals, marking Malaysia on the sports map. With the help of good coaches and proper management, it takes years to perfect skills and mould talent. What all these athletes share in common is that they all had to be trained in their formative years to be where they are today.

Most athletes start out as children and are reliant on the guidance and supervision of their coaches. Are we entrusting our youth to dependable and trustworthy coaches or are there cracks in the system we are overlooking?

In 2017, we were shocked with the news of a national diving coach allegedly raping a 20-year-old diver, spurring reports of the treatment and safety of young athletes. It seemed that the athlete-turned-coach had a reputation for violence and sexual harassment in the past.

This story also puts a spotlight on how other nations have treated their athletes, such as South Korea’s training system that reported how athletes were raped and beaten by their coaches. In fact, abuse and exploitation of athletes seem to be a recurring problem.

This frames the question of how national sports coaches are selected and if any proper screening is conducted at all to prevent similar cases from happening. Coaches and trainers involved with nurturing young athletes should ideally be regularly screened to ensure they do not possess criminal records and are the right fit for the job.

This is addressed in recent developments in Malaysian governance towards better protection of the youth with initiatives such as transparent governance with mandatory checks in the Youth and Sports Ministry and the push for the Child Act to expedite the updating of the sex offenders list.

With good policies in place, due diligence can play a stronger role with more parties such as parents, schools, and sports governing bodies taking part. Whether it be in school-level sports or even in private clubs, we can make sporting environments safer by screening to ensuring coaches, instructors and trainers are qualified and do not have a questionable past. Perhaps then we can look forward to a safer and more productive environment that will produce more gold-winning athletes in the years to come.

At Verity Intelligence, we believe that you should “trust, but verify” the people that you or your children engage with. Whether it be work or school, it is never too safe to be sure.

To learn more, visit www.verityintel.com to stay tuned to our weekly blog.

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