Millions of children take part in sporting activities every day across the world. For some, this is purely for recreation and fun. For others, sport may be their chosen future career. All children have the right to participate in sport in a safe and enjoyable environment. Children's Rights in Sport Principles call for all persons involved to help realize sporting environment which would genuinely promote sound growth and prosperous lives of children.
Children's Rights in Sport Principles are UNICEF's first document of its kind, initiated by Japan Committee for UNICEF and developed with the participation of members of drafting committee, the support of Japan's sport bodies led by Japan Sport Agency, as well as contributions from experts including UNICEF UK.
Expectations for Sports Organizations, Educational Institutions, and Coaches
Commit to Respect and Support the Rights of Children
Commit to respect and support the rights of children, based on the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Specifically, endorse the following universal values and share them within and outside of their organization.
Make the best interests of the child the paramount consideration in all actions concerning children. Noting that the “win at all costs” mentality does not always serve the best interests of the child, or foster children’ s lifelong participation in sport.
Respect that children can express their views freely in all matters affecting themselves, including their willingness or unwillingness to participate in matches and practice, in accordance with their age and maturity. Respect the views of the child on how they wish to participate in and enjoy sport, including those aiming to become professional athletes and those wishing to enjoy sport as a leisure and recreation activity.
Ensure no child is discriminated on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, birth, sexual orientation or identity, language, religion, culture, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, or economic or other status of the child or his or her parents or guardians.
For children with a disability steps should be taken to provide parasport activities, or to adapt sports so that participation can be enjoyed alongside children without a disability. This may involve making facilities universal in design, ensuring they are appropriately supported by officials, coaches and other support personnel, or adapting the rules of the sport or equipment to be inclusive for disabled athletes.
Eliminate all forms of violence and abuse against children and address issues that adversely affect the rights of children.
Commit to actively support children’s rights through supporting sound and well-rounded physical and mental development through sport, as well as promoting the fundamental values of sport including fair play, teamwork and respect.
Consider Balanced Growth of Children through Sports
Help children achieve holistic and comprehensive personal development by considering how to balance with other non-sporting activities including rest, time spent with family, leisure and recreation and learning. Specifically, the following perspectives should be taken into account, and efforts should be made in accordance with the size, character, and activities of each organization.
Respect the time children spend with their families and ensure their right to family life.
To help the child develop his or her personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, promote balanced growth of children by allowing them sufficient opportunities to engage in learning, play, sport, leisure and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child, and to participate freely in cultural and art activities.
Promote honesty, fairness and integrity of sport and the virtue of fair play and teamwork among children, and provide them with the information needed to promote balanced growth such as on the importance of education, the need for a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle, and for protection from all forms of violence against children, including bullying.
Also provide information about the risks and dangers associated with a sporting career, including that the lifetime as elite athletes can be short and that opportunities for sporting success may be interrupted due to accident or injury.
Afford all children involved in sport, including those who are aspiring to be elite athletes, sufficient time for learning.
Provide children with access to appropriately qualified academic and life advisors outside of sports, and assist with preparing them for the transition to the next phase of their lives, including potential future employment outside sport.
Protect Children from the Risks of Sports
Protect children from risks such as violence and abuse and ensure an environment in which children can play sports safely. Specifically, the following perspectives should be taken into account, and efforts should be considered in accordance with the size, character, and activities of each organization.
Throughout the course of sports instruction, practice and matches, eliminate all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, abuse (including sexual abuse), excessive training, harassment (sexual and power harassment), bullying, hazing, neglect, negligent treatment, maltreatment, exploitation, excessive rules and/or punishment and trafficking.
Do not tolerate any physical or mental abuse or demeaning language or treatment of children, including that conducted by other children or via social media.
Collect data on cases of injury during sports instruction, practice and matches and analyze the underlying causes of the results.
Make sure that all personnel who are involved in teaching, coaching, medical support and administration of sport have appropriate qualifications, training and access to continuous professional development.
Guarantee a safe and secure environment for children to practice, compete and officiate in sport, including by ensuring the prevention of sport-related accidents, and ensuring a secure sporting environment which is only accessible to persons who have passed background checks.
Provide children with safe and appropriate transportation of a suitable quality, housing, and meals when they travel to play sports.
Ensure that children can play sports without engaging in fraudulent conduct (e.g. match fixing, corruption and manipulation) triggered by prestige or economic interests.
Recognizing that children are more likely to become victims of such misconduct compared to adults, as the scaling-up and commercialization of sports progresses, educate and discipline all persons involved in children’s sports (also known as “entourage” vii) on this matter.
Prevent persons, including coaches, who have the authority to decide whether or not to allow children to participate in games, from receiving economic or other rewards that may influence their decisions, to ensure fairness and transparency.
Make sure that children are protected from all forms of exploitation including political, social as well as economic exploitation.
Protect the Health of Children
Protect the physical and mental health of children, including protecting them from doping.
Specifically, the following perspectives should be taken into account, and efforts should be made in accordance with the size, character, and activities of each organization.
Consider the appropriate type, intensity and method of teaching sport according to the age and development of the child.
Based on scientific and medical knowledge, ensure that sport does not negatively affect the physical and mental health of children, including through burn-out, by excessive training. Recognize that pushing children into those situations may constitute a form of child abuse. Contribute to setting rules on the limit and extent of training and participation in matches, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders outside of the organization as appropriate.
Recognize that adults tend to have unrealistic expectations that can cause children to over-work without due consideration for the risks of serious injuries that could affect their future lives, and encourage children to make calm judgments by means such as appropriately notifying them of the risks associated with sports, and effectively protecting the mental and physical health of children, by creating an environment in which all persons involved respect the judgment of children without imposing excessive pressure on them.
Provide children with ready access to certified athletic trainers and/or medical doctors, as well as other relevant professionals to educate and counsel the children on physical and mental health.
Based on scientific and medical knowledge, protect children from all doping and ensure that legal substances, such as nutritional supplements for the purpose of performance enhancement are never provided to children without duly considering the effect on children’s short and long-term physical and mental health. Recognize that pushing children into doping may constitute a form of child abuse.
Provide all persons involved, including coaches medical staff and caregivers, with access to education on proper nutrition, the need for a healthy diet, and the appropriate use of medicines and supplements for children, from an appropriately qualified professional.
Provide all relevant persons with the information they need to identify and refer to for support, in cases of eating disorders or disordered eating amongst children taking part in sport, recognizing the particular risks in weight-making sports.
Recognizing that 24 hours is not all for sport, help establish an appropriate and balanced lifestyle for children, setting appropriate time allocation for sports vis-a-vis time for learning and other activities, as well as for rest and sleep.
Develop Governance System to Protect the Rights of Children
Develop a governance system to effectively implement Principles 1 to 4. Specifically, the following measures should be implemented in accordance with the size, character, and activity of each organization.
Formulate a policy for committing to Principles 1 to 4 (including those covering wider aspects including the rights of children) and publicize the policy inside and outside of the organization.
Identify and assess any actual or potential adverse impact on the rights of children in accordance with the nature and activities of each sports organization, and implement measures according to the identified risks.
Establish specific rules, guidelines, and codes of conducts to implement the policies for respecting and supporting the rights of children set out in Principles 1 to 4, and ensure that they are followed by all persons involved.
Monitor regularly whether violence, overtraining and other issues that adversely affect the rights of children occur in the course of sport instruction, practice, and matches.
Continue to review and improve the status of efforts to respect and support the rights of children based on the results of monitoring.
Ensure that children have access to services to report and consult safely and confidentially on violence, overtraining and other issues that adversely affect their rights. Provide children with information about their rights and about how they can report and discuss their concerns.
Prepare mechanisms that allow third parties or anyone who is worried, to report or make their concerns known on issues that might adversely affect the rights of children.
Ensure access to effective remedies that are appropriate to the needs of children by placing top priority on the best interest of the child when receiving concerns or complaints. Ensure that remedy channels are accessible to children and that children are able to participate in them meaningfully.
Ensure Understanding and Engagement by Adults Involved with Children and Sports
Promote understanding and dialogue among all persons involved in order to ensure effective implementation of the Principles. Specifically, the following measures should be implemented in accordance with the size, character, and activity of the organization.
Adopt appropriate standards for recruiting persons supporting children in sport, including coaches, official, teachers, trainers and volunteers, to ensure that they do not adversely affect children’ s rights, through such measures as incorporating respect for children’ s rights in recruitment standards, and checking prior records of abuse.
Hold regular educational and training opportunities to promote the proper understanding and implementation of these Principles, in collaboration with relevant organizations as appropriate.
Promote the understanding of the Principles among all those involved through regular dialogues within the organization including with the children, and with external stakeholders including guardians, schools and adult athletes, so that the Principles are properly implemented according to each specific situation. Provide children with a safe and secure space in which to share their issues, concerns and ideas.
Expectations for Sponsoring Companies
Incorporate Children’s Rights in Sponsorship Decisions
In deciding whether or not to sponsor a sport organization or an educational institution, take into account the state of the sport organization’s efforts in respecting and supporting the rights of children as set out in Principles 1 to 6.
Where appropriate, require the sport organization or the educational institution to make explicit commitments to respect and support the rights of children, in accordance with Principles 1 to 6, as a condition of sponsorship.
Engage with the Organizations who are Sponsored
Ask sports organizations and educational institutions who are sponsored to explain their efforts to respect and promote the rights of children, as stipulated in Principles 1 to 6, in accordance with their specific risks, and use leverage to encourage them to implement any measures which have not been fully implemented.
Expectations for Adult Athletes
Approach and Hold Dialogues with Stakeholders
Given that children are often placed in a position that makes it difficult for them to speak out on issues that negatively affect their rights and those of other children due to their vulnerabilities, expectations and pressure from others and the extent of their ability to articulate their concerns, adult athletes who may have similar experience, and represent or support children or share their concerns, should be encouraged to work with other stakeholders to support children in the following ways.
Based on their own experiences, hold dialogues with stakeholders including sports organizations and sponsor companies on how to respect and support the rights children, and urge them to implement initiatives in accordance with Principles 1 to 8.
Share, to the extent possible and appropriate, their experiences with children and their guardians, raising awareness and understanding of the issues children can face in sport to make it easier for children to discuss and seek help on issues such as violence, overtraining, and other issues that adversely affect children’s rights.
Expectations for Parents and Guardians of Children
Support the Healthy Growth of Children through Sports
Parents and guardians of children should support the sound and balanced growth of their children by taking the following measures, taking into account the important role they play in providing children with physical and mental support, and their role in communicating the power and opportunities of sports, and the ways in which they can support the activities of sports organizations and educational institutions.
Recognizing the importance of their role as the foremost protector of their children, help them reach their potential and enjoy their time in sports, by caring for them with consideration to a balanced lifecycle. Ensure they discuss with their child how he or she wants to participate in and enjoy sports, what kind of support the child feels they need, and do not create any negative impact on children including by excessive expectations or involvement.
Recognize that children can sometimes push themselves too hard and adults may need to set appropriate boundaries to protect them from this.
Implement the relevant items in Principles 1 to 4 from the standpoint of parents and guardians, while holding constructive dialogues with other relevant stakeholders including the sport organizations.
Continuously monitor whether there are issues that adversely affect the rights of the child. If advised by the child or if they identify themselves violations of child rights, support developing a solution to the problem in a manner that gives top priority to the best interests of the child.
in Sport Principles
You can download the Children's Rights in Sport Principles booklet in English.