The dark side of sport – What parents need to know.

drugs and money

During the past week, 3 news stories have highlighted that there is a dark side to sport. Each of these events has a profound message for parents and kids involved in sport.

Sexual Harassment in Sport

Jerry Sandusky, the retired Penn State football coach, was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse. Many of these cases dated back to the mid-1990s and other coaches were aware that he was behaving inappropriately, yet did nothing about it. The victims were young adolescent males entrusted to his care by parents believing that their children would be looked after and treated with the respect and dignity they deserved. These young men have displayed enormous courage in coming forward to testify and bring the scourge of abuse in sport into the public domain. As the mother of one of the victims said, “Nobody wins, we’ve all lost.”

Unfortunately this case is just one of many around the world in which children and adolescents are subjected to unnecessary harassment and abuse by coaches.

In a previous article, we addressed sexual harassment in some detail. Parents should be on the look-out for changes in their children’s behaviours such as increased aggression, waking up during the night, regression to a younger age than their stage of development, withdrawal from previously enjoyable activities, fear of certain places or being alone with specific individuals amongst others, as these could be signs of harassment, bullying and abuse.

Before enrolling your child in a sports programme, parents should take the time to understand the organisation’s policies and procedures in terms of coach code of ethics and conduct, employment/engagement processes and background checks, the legal rights of athletes and coaches, implementation of these procedures and is open communication encouraged between parents, players and coaches.

Use of sports supplements

This year’s winner of the Comrades Marathon, one of the world’s most prestigious ultra-marathons, tested positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine. Whether or not this was deliberate or inadvertent we do not know at this stage and may never know, but before we pass judgment it is important to understand some of the key issues surrounding the sport supplements industry.

The sport supplements industry is largely unregulated resulting in organisations making these products being able to make inaccurate claims regarding ingredients, effectiveness of products, manufacturing processes and composition of products. The effect of this is that products can become contaminated with substances that are deemed to be performance enhancing and thus banned by the World Anti- Doping Agency (WADA) and sporting federations. This has resulted in a number of sportsmen and women inadvertently testing positive for banned substances.

Due to the substantial risks (known and yet unknown) related to supplement use, the international consensus is that sports supplements should not be used in persons under the age of 18. (1)

So what can you do as parents? The most important thing is to educate yourselves and your children regarding the dangers of sports supplements. We have published a number of articles in this regard as well as reference material with respect to specific aspects of doping in sport. Perhaps the most important message is that sports supplements are not necessary in young athletes and that they can derive all their requirements from a balanced diet.

We have a number of fact sheets available which provide more information on sports supplements.

Corruption in Sport

The third issue concerns what is fast turning into a perennial problem in sport and cricket in particular and that is match fixing. Danish Kaneria, the former Pakistani leg spinner, was last week sentenced to a life time ban from any cricket under the jurisdiction of the England and Wales Cricket Board after being found guilty of corruption and match fixing by a disciplinary panel. During the same week, former Pakistani captain Salman Butt was released from prison, after serving only 9 months of his 30 month sentence for spot fixing. What is concerning in both these cases is that the players sought to influence other players to become involved in match fixing, not unlike former South African captain Hansie Cronje.

It seems that money and winning-at-all-costs are becoming more important than performing and competing to the best of one’s ability and that players and others involved in the industry will do anything to derive financial benefit from sport. This is also evident by the ever increasing number of sports agents, scavenging like vultures at youth sports events, trying to sign up players for senior teams and academies.

For parents, it is our role to teach our children the virtues of good sportsmanship, discipline and hard work from as early an age as possible and encourage them to participate in the spirit of the sport in which they are competing. As positive role models we can make a difference to their sporting participation and contribute in some way to improving the manner in which sport is played around the world.



1. South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS). Sport Supplements Position Statement 2011.

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