MADRID – Concerns about abuse in Spain are increasing. The kissing incident of Football Federation President Luis Rubiales has also brought the subject to attention in the sports world. Was this kissing scandal just an example of a bigger problem?
Much is already known about abuse in the Catholic Church, but more and more cases of abuse are also coming to light in the Spanish sports world. Minors in particular seem to be victims.
The Spanish newspaper El País started its investigation into the impact of abuse in sports. The national newspaper sent a questionnaire to 152 sports associations, top sports centers, and the men’s and women’s teams in the most prominent sports. The newspaper asked questions about sexual abuse as well as psychological and power abuse.
El País only received a response to the questionnaire from a third of the institutions. Due to a limited response, the newspaper has therefore carried out its own analysis of reports, judgments and publicly known cases. This limited research already reveals disturbing figures: at least 1,055 victims in 187 cases of abuse over the past two decades.
Tip of the iceberg
Of the cases registered by El País itself, 82 percent of the victims were minors. According to child rights expert Iñaki Alonso, these figures are just the “tip of the iceberg”. He indicates that “most cases are resolved and covered up: the coach is fired, transferred, … Few cases lead to a formal report.”
Although precise figures on abuse in sports are lacking, half of the victims identify a coach as the perpetrator. Abuse appears to occur in at least 37 sports in Spain. Despite this, there doesn’t seem to be any priority to actually detect or map it. Although according to El País there is a constant, albeit invisible stream of reports.
Extent of the problem unclear
According to a source from the Consejo Superior de Deportes (CSD), Spain’s highest sporting body, “one victim is one too many. We must be ruthless on this front.” The reality is that no one knows the extent of the problem. There are countless examples of abuse reports, for example at sports clubs, that are not known to the umbrella sports associations. In the case of racism, there are clear protocols. However, there are no protocols for abuse.
Penalties for abuse cases range from fines to jail time. Yet there are perpetrators who, after conviction, simply go to work at a new club, where they can continue their practices. This indicates that the problem is not very visible, apart from the issues that receive a lot of media attention.
Unclear structure for notifications
In theory, every sports association must pass on received reports to the CSD within 1 month, but in practice this does not happen. There is no clear structure that helps to ‘watch over the athletes’. Furthermore, sports associations and the CSD have no power to punish. Experts suggest that the Spanish Sports Tribunal (TAD) should be given more powers to hand out sanctions.
“They don’t want to know”
Little research has been done on abuse in sports, and sports organizations are reluctant to provide specific numbers. So reliable figures are not known. There is often money available for courses, training or prevention, but not for actual research. It seems that “they don’t want to know,” says a sports director who focuses on child protection.
Act for the Protection of Minors
Yet institutions consider themselves pioneers in the field of child protection, even though they are usually silent about what they know. The law for the protection of minors has been in force since 2020. This law requires associations and clubs to have protocols for cases of abuse and someone responsible for protecting minors. However, at many clubs, this has not yet been arranged or the person responsible for these matters is not sufficiently knowledgeable in this area.
To date, the true extent of the situation is unknown. The Rubiales case has highlighted abuse in the sporting world and El País reveals the extent of a hidden problem through its own investigation. Yet despite the known cases of abuse, there are still many that go unnoticed.