THERE are few who would argue that sport is not a hugely significant addition to anyone’s life, from the skills and attitudes it helps develop to the positive experiences it brings to the majority of participants.

However, to ensure sport is a beneficial world to be involved in it must be safe.

Last week, England took an important step in protecting young people within sport by closing the loophole that allows sports coaches to have sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.

This law already included teachers and social workers and so the inclusion of sports coaches is hugely significant, and it should be a priority to ensure this change to the law is also implemented in Scotland sooner rather than later.

Sports coaches are in a position of massive power, as well as trust, and while the majority do not abuse this, some do. 

For the abuse of that power to not be a criminal offence in Scotland is both shocking and worrying, especially when it has been recognised in England that this is an area where there needs to be more protection.

Most young athletes will never have to confront the scenario of a coach abusing the power or trust placed in them. But some will face a coach attempting to coerce, or in even worse cases, force, them into a sexual relationship.

Athletes know the power coaches hold over them. Often, they can make or break a career.

When a young person faces the choice of either saying no to a coach’s advances, causing potentially terminal damage to their career and seeing their dreams disappear, or going along with a coach’s advances, it is easy to see why inappropriate relationships start.

Often, a young person will not even realise they are being abused but in the context of a coach-athlete relationship when the athlete is so young, the power imbalance is so great it cannot be deemed an equal partnership.

Clearly, athlete-coach relationships can work. From Paula Radcliffe and her husband to Victoria Pendleton and her (former) partner, there is not a shortage of examples of relationships that have worked both personally and professionally when it comes to sport.

But there is a big difference between an experienced, established athlete entering into a relationship and a young teenager entering into one.

These young athletes must be protected and must know they have the law on their side.

Extending this law to include sports coaches is something the NSPCC have been campaigning on for some time, with Joanna Barrett, associate head of policy for NSPCC Scotland, expressing the organisation’s disappointment that this country has not yet taken action on the matter.

“Scotland, a country that aspires to respect the rights of every child, including the right to be protected from exploitation, cannot allow itself to be left behind on this,” she says.

It is indeed disheartening to see Scotland failing to update this law, which would indisputably make sport in this country a safer environment for teenagers.

Being involved in sport is a hugely positive experience for the majority of young people. But not for all.

As a matter of urgency, this law should be extended to Scotland. For those young athletes who will be directly affected by closing the loophole, action must be taken sooner rather than later.


LAST week, shock waves were sent through British sport when Dr Richard Freeman, a former medic of Team Sky, was found guilty of ordering banned testosterone in 2011 “knowing or believing” it was to help dope an unnamed rider.

A medical tribunal into Freeman’s conduct, which has been ongoing for more than two years, ruled the Englishman ordered Testogel with the knowledge “it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance”. 

Freeman had pleaded guilty to a number of other charges but had denied this central charge of ordering a banned substance for performance-enhancing purposes.

Freeman’s hearing will continue this week but whatever happens in the remainder of the case, the fact it has now been concluded that the banned testosterone was meant to enhance performance, which is, of course, illegal in sport, will have huge ramifications.

The reputation that Team Sky built relied on the claims they were squeaky-clean and is now in tatters.

The obvious question is, if this testosterone was ordered to enhance a particular individual’s performance, who was it? 

Rumours are bound to circulate but there is every chance we will never get the name of the rider. 

Those who defended Team Sky must now be kicking themselves. The British team came into cycling proclaiming they were going to do things differently and they could be trusted to win races clean. 

Certainly the results the team achieved, including five Tour de France winners, were remarkable.

Unfortunately though, the medical panel’s conclusion on Freeman now casts a shadow over everything Team Sky  achieved.