Paedophilia in sport touches a raw nerve with many people. The Penn State Sandusky case in the US shows this graphically. For religions, it highlights a disparity with the basic principles espoused by those religions. With sport, it touches on a societal moral code aspect – that is, “sportsmanship” and “fair play”. For Australians, it forms a big part of our national identity.
Some sports such as netball have good mechanisms in place to avoid harbouring predators in their midst. Others do not. Where the problem is most likely to arise is where there is a large power distance between abuser and victims (see earlier post).
For the gifted few, sport can lead to fortune and fame. The chance of getting there is greatly diminished without a high level coach. This coach has an inherent power over the wannabe athlete. A few cases involving Australia demonstrates this point.
Barry “Butch” Heffernan could boast that he helped train top players such as Bjorn Borg and Martina Navratilova and operated the Down Under Tennis Academy. Two young girls tolerated his ongoing abuse because of this power factor. Further, he relied on his reputation to convince the girls that no-one would believe them if they reported him. In the early days, priests too could hide behind this argument. In 2008, Heffernan was gaoled for 5 and a ½ years for sexually abusing young hopefuls.
International tennis coach Gavin Hopper was found guilty in 2004 over a relationship with a teenage girl in the 1980s. An appeal may have been lodged since.
Next there was the case of Mark Fitzpatrick, an Australian professional tennis coach who pleaded guilty to abusing a girl student of his for more than two years.
In yet another high profile case, former tennis doubles champion, Bob Hewitt, faced allegations he had abused a girl he coached. The CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Mark Stenning, suspended Hewitt from the Hall of Fame as a consequence. It is not known how the case ended.
In a similar situation, former Queensland fast-bowler, Harold King, was gaoled for 12 years for abusing boys he coached in the 1980s and 1990s. He admitted the offences but pleaded not guilty because he claimed the boys consented to his acts. One of the victims suffered nightmares all his life as a result of King’s abuse. No chance of a high-flying cricket career there.
Young cricketers and tennis players are not the only ones potentially at risk. There was a third alleged case in sport that ended with no charges, despite a victim launching a rare private prosecution, which was dismissed in the Supreme Court by Justice Cate Holmes. The accused was a leading Australian national swimming coach. In Australia, if you win a gold medal in swimming, you get to write your own cheque for product endorsements.
The cases like these, where a large power distance is involved, should receive the greatest attention when the royal commission is considering its core task of ensuring effective institutional responses. From the foregoing, it would seem that tennis may be a good place to start.
Courts seem to be a little bit fooled by claims of compliant victims. They ignore the reality that power distance factors can be misinterpreted as real compliance. For example, in 2010, Olympic cyclist Mark Jamieson pleaded guilty to abuse against a 15-year-old girl. He was sentenced to 2 and ½ years prison with a non-parole period of one year.
However, the judge, Mark Griffin, said that he accepted the victim was a willing participant, that he did not want Jamieson to go to gaol, and further said that he bore him no malice. The judge went on to say that Jamieson had become swept up in the relationship and lacked the necessary wisdom and maturity to behave appropriately.
The sentence was suspended with Jamieson being placed on a 3-year good behaviour bond.
There are a few other cases from Australia but there is no need to cover them here in detail (see links below for more). All of them support the theory that a critical danger point occurs when a coach holds an individual’s future career within the coach’s personal grasp.
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That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)