Tokyo Olympics: Japan pressed to tackle discrimination, abuse in sport

A woman walks past Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games signage at the Main Press Centre in Tokyo, Japan July 16, 2021. ― Reuters pic
A woman walks past Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games signage at the Main Press Centre in Tokyo, Japan July 16, 2021. ― Reuters pic

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TOKYO, July 20 — Japan should use the Olympics as a chance to commit to tackling discrimination over gender identity and sexual orientation in sport and prevent physical abuse of youth athletes, activists said on Monday, just days before the start of the Tokyo Games.

Though known for its strong civil society and democracy, Japan had serious rights issues to address, Human Rights Watch said, adding that the Olympics charter bans discrimination of any kind.

The group last week released its “reporter’s guide” to the Olympics, addressing Japan’s human rights record and the Tokyo Games and a failure by lawmakers to pass lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) anti-discrimination law in the lead-up to the Olympics, which run from July 23-Aug. 8.

“LGBT athletes especially face abuse and stigma and trauma from their experiences in sports,” Minky Worden, the group’s director of global initiatives (sport) told a virtual briefing.

“It is quite shocking that not a single ‘out’ athlete as we understand it, will compete for the host nation.”

While Japanese law is considered relatively liberal by Asian standards, social attitudes and stigma have kept its LGBT community largely invisible.

Gon Matsunaka, head of Japan’s first permanent LGBT community centre, said that although host city Tokyo had passed an anti-discrimination law, LGBT individuals elsewhere in Japan had no legal protection.

He said there were also few LGBT allies in what he called a male-dominated Japanese sports culture, due to fear of stigma.

“Within the sports arena there is huge discrimination on sexual minorities,” he said. “Heterosexual men have the power. LGBTQ people are under discrimination of that kind of culture.”

Human Rights Watch also pressed for a commitment to tackle physical abuse as a coaching technique in school and youth sport in Japan, and impunity for teachers and coaches.

Human Rights Watch said its survey last year of 381 current or former youth athletes revealed 46 per cent suffered abuse, including being hit, slapped, punched, kicked or beaten with objects.

“Many are suffering from depression, physical disabilities and lifelong trauma as a result,” Worden said.

Japan issued a declaration in 2013 to eliminate violence in sport, which called for federations to track abuse and establish reporting systems, while a 2019 governance codes sought to establish guidelines across all sports bodies. — Reuters

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