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Amateur sportsThe struggle for sport

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011 | 11:02 AM

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This week's symposium put on by the University of Toronto's Faculty of Physical Education and Health called, Game Misconduct: Violence, Abuse and Young Athletes, raises a lot of questions about sport and where it's heading these days.

uoft_584.jpg Many young athletes are being treated as property to be owned and traded at an incredibly early age. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

This week's symposium put on by the University of Toronto's Faculty of Physical Education and Health called, Game Misconduct: Violence, Abuse and Young Athletes, raises a lot of questions about sport and where it's heading these days.

Against a backdrop where the professional role models of fun and games are proving themselves to be dopers and cheaters on myriad levels and where the best and brightest stars are frequently injured, the foundation values of sport are under siege.

Yes, we are watching more sport on TV and consuming it across multi-platforms but are we engaging in sport on an active level, doing it for the right reasons and in the proper way?

"Physical inactivity causes 50,000 deaths in Canada per year," says Dr. Doug Richards, the team physician for the U of T Varsity Blues and director of the university's sport medicine clinic.

"Sport and physical activity should be healthy. There are risks yes, but sport needs to make games safer. If I have one more parent come to me and tell me their concussed son or daughter is ready to play too soon, I'm going to lose it."

Who is sport for and why should it matter?

Isn't it about honest competition between rivals at the height of their powers and enjoying what the famed hockey goaltender Ken Dryden once called, the magic of play?  Isn't sport supposed to be at least partly about fun and personal growth?

Given the epidemic corruption and violence in the current sporting environment, there's cause for concern.

"Often these days the magnitude of victory is determined by the extent to which your opponent is incapacitated," says Richards.

Dr. Gretchen Kerr focuses her research on the psychological health of young people and child maltreatment in sport. She also serves as the harassment officer for Gymnastics Canada.

"Why did we banish corporal punishment in schools decades ago but allow it to continue in sport?" says Kerr. "There is no national and universal regulatory body for coaching. Imagine any other profession that deals with children not having such a body."

Worrisome is the extent to which young and talented athletes in this country are being exploited. The focus is on high performance and at an incredibly early age, too many are being treated as property to be owned and traded.  There is now a high risk of injury in children's sport and the dropout rate of gifted athletes is climbing.

Sport for the sake of sport seems to be struggling to survive.

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