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Former Olympic gymnast speaks out about abuse in sport

Thursday 23 March 2017

A FORMER Olympic gymnast who led an international campaign after being abused as a child athlete is to tell her story at a University of Salford event.

Gloria Viseras, who begun the Voices For Truth And Dignity campaign after her experience as a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her coach, is to speak at the Understanding Abuse In Sport And Safeguarding Children event, held at the University’s MediaCityUK campus on Friday March 24.

Viseras, who represented Spain at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, did not disclose what had happened until she met her former teammates three decades later, and went on to become a figurehead for others who had faced abuse as child athletes.

But Jameel Hadi, a Lecturer in Social Work at the University, says while the backdrop for the event is the recent disclosures of historical abuse within professional football, the issue is far wider than sexual abuse.

Jameel, who was given an MBE for services to young people because of his work with the Participation Through Sport group, argues that there are broader problems with emotional abuse from coaches and the fact that children’s voices are never heard.

The event, which will be attended by members of safeguarding boards, will draw on research, investigations and first-hand accounts to explore the relationship between abuse and children’s participation in sports.

Natalia Farmer will talk about her experience training in junior elite tennis, where she witnessed the culture of silence which enabled coaches to bully young players or have inappropriate relationships with them.

Former BBC journalist Chris Green will also talk about his study into practices at football academies, which led to the publication of his book Every Boy’s Dream.

Jameel Hadi said: “This event is about widening the debate around safeguarding children in sport and trying to understand the issues that lie behind it. The environments in which children take part in sport often create the conditions in which sexual abuse can take place. This abuse doesn’t happen on its own – it happens because there is emotional abuse and bullying which is tolerated.

“The problem is that whenever people talk about cracking down on this problem, they talk about strengthening procedures. Of course, we need to do that, but there is a much bigger cultural change that needs to happen.

“All the power is with the coaches – they are peddling dreams and the parents know that. Children in sport are often invisible, and if we are going to deal with this problem properly that needs to change. Listening to and involving children is fundamental to making sure they trust adults and speak out about their concerns.”