By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) - A Human Rights Watch report has found child athletes in Japan often suffer physical and verbal abuse and sometimes sexual abuse during training after documenting the experiences of over 800 athletes in 50 sports.
The 67-page report released on Monday titled "I Was Hit So Many Times I Can't Count" looks at Japan's history of physical punishment in sport and includes first-hand accounts from athletes.
The report comes in the week that would have marked the start of the Tokyo Olympics had it not been for the global coronavirus pandemic. The Games have now been delayed a year.
"The specific abuses we documented include punching, slapping, kicking or striking with objects (and) excessive or insufficient food and water," Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told a news conference.
In 2013, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) promised to take steps to wipe out violence among its sports federations after an internal survey revealed more than 10% of its athletes had been victims of bullying or harassment.
It also cut funding to its judo federation for a time after coaches were found to have physically abused female athletes.
HRW said not enough had been done since then and demanded organisations such as the Japan Sports Council and the JOC use the upcoming Olympics as a catalyst for change. It noted child abuse in sport is a global problem and that the systems for reporting abuse are opaque, unresponsive, and inadequate.
"Human Rights Watch is calling on Japan to take decisive action and to lead in tackling this global crisis," Worden said.
The JOC did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
The report was based on interviews with more than 50 current and former athletes, an online survey that drew 757 responses and meetings with eight Japanese sports organisations.
Of the 381 survey respondents aged 24 or younger, 19% indicated they had been hit, punched, slapped, kicked, knocked to the ground or beaten with an object while participating in sports.
"The coach told me I was not serious enough with the running, so we were all called to the coach and I was hit in the face in front of everyone. I was bleeding, but he did not stop hitting me," the report quoted a professional athlete given the pseudonym of Daiki A. as saying.
Eighteen percent reported experiencing verbal abuse, and five reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment while participating in sport as children.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)