By: Chaya Roffe  | 

The Olympics Are Not a Kid Friendly Venue

With Olympic medalists becoming younger and younger and abuse stories coming out more and more in tandem, one must ponder the connection. In the recent Winter Olympics, Kamila Valieva, 15, was caught doping. Although it is not the first time this happened to a Russian athlete, people were outraged because she was only a teenager. Many argued that she was not fully to blame due to her age and the pressure put on her by her coaches. Some even said that Valieva might not have even been aware that she was doping, although this point is hard to prove. She ended up being allowed to compete, but if she would have placed, there would not have been a ceremony. In the end, Valieva had multiple mistakes in her program and earned fourth, but the most newsworthy moment was when she got off the ice; she was immediately berated by her coaches for her failed performance. The head of the International Olympic Committee even issued a rare statement, saying that “it was disturbing” how her coaches treated her. Valieva is 15. After getting caught doping, she fell during her program, only to be verbally harassed by her coaches. All this should shock anyone who cares about child welfare and safety. 

When training for the Olympics, a lot of time and money goes into perfecting technique and gaining skill. It is understood that coaches and trainers help their athletes win gold, so those athletes listen to them. Olympic competition is stiff. If a coach says to do push-ups because it will help, athletes listen. If a coach says to do push-ups with no explanation given, athletes implicitly understand that it is for their Olympic training and success. Having a good coach is a huge advantage, so kids in training try their best to follow their coaches’ orders lest they be dropped – child-athletes are always replaceable. What a coach says a player follows, even to the point of withholding water and forcing sexual favors. These athletes are often so sore and exhausted they effectively become robots.

If one is training for the Olympics, it is common that their education gets put on the back burner; this is typically true for any athletes who want to go pro. So, with little to fall back on, athletes train hard and put all they have into their sport. Their parents often send them away to training camps and schools. In some communist countries, parents get subsidized for sending their kids away to train. Often, the only adults in these facilities are the coaches. Given the children’s natural inclination to listen and their need for approval and acceptance, it is common for abuses of power to take place. Coaches are allowed to physically beat athletes in China if they do not perform well. In Japan kids are beaten with bamboo sticks, withheld water and verbally and sexually abused as punishment. These kids often are in a bubble, lacking friends other than their fellow athletes, and they do not have any other adult figures to look up to except their coaches. They adopt a “no room for error” perfectionist mentality at an early age which often leads to anxiety and depression.  

Even without the horrible physical and sexual abuse at coaches' hands, consistent training at an Olympic level puts a strain on the body. Due to constant pain from muscle tearing from doing high-level exercises day in and day out, athletes take pain killers or prescription medication for easy recovery and performance enhancement. Even without the doping aspect, many painkillers are addictive and can cause intestinal issues. Athletes can also injure themselves during training, the event itself or even after competition due to muscle overuse. Children and adolescents usually aren’t aware of the consequences of painkillers or muscle strain; in fact, in the Valieva case, some reported that she might not have been aware that three drugs were in her system or that it was illegal to use them.  

All the cameras show all the angles. The Olympics are streamed for all the world to see and scrutinize, and many Olympic sports lead to idealizations of perfect images of what gymnasts, figure skaters and others should look like. This is where dieting and body shaming begin. Shawn Johnson, a USA Gold Medal Gymnast, weighed 110 pounds and consumed a mere 700 calories a day during her training for the 2008 Olympics. She reported that she would pass out during or after practice. She was 16 when she realized she wasn’t developing properly, and only got her first period after her appearance in the 2008 games. There are many gymnasts and Olympic athletes like Johnson who are body shamed into extreme dieting which leads to disordered eating.

Kids aren’t prepared to start this conquest for gold. Their coaches control their lives, what they eat, how they are treated and what drugs they are given. Young athletes almost never openly disagree with their coaches, so their peers learn by example not to say no either. Olympic coaches, both unintentionally and intentionally, isolate their athletes so that they have nowhere to turn. These children aren’t making a conscious decision during their training to give everything up, they just want to be accepted. Enough is enough. Say no to children in the Olympics.

Photo Caption: Olympics: the place where coaches’ dreams come true

Photo Credit:  The Commentator