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Child Abuse in Athletics

Child Abuse in Athletics

A child’s education is not just about what they learn in school from their teachers, but also the shaping of their development by support and care from their parents, as well as participation in sport. For some, the engagement in sport may be limited to lessons as part of the curriculum. In contrast, many children and young people’s commitment to a particular sport becomes a major feature in their young lives.

Children and their parents are reliant upon organisations, clubs and individual sports coaches to nurture talent, to enable each child to fulfil their potential and in some cases fulfil their ambition to become champions at their chosen sport.

The majority of sports coaches are not only good at what they do, but they care for and take care of a child’s physical and emotional well-being. However, there are some clubs and coaches who take advantage, to groom and exploit a young talent, or to abuse, emotionally or physically. There are those who will belittle, humiliate, bully, and discriminate.

We have acted for, and continue to act for clients, both children and adults (who were abused in childhood), who have been subjected to various forms of abuse, potentially resulting in long term mental health issues.

If you would like to talk, in confidence, to an experienced and specialist lawyer about abuse in athletics, contact us now for no obligation advice, to learn of your rights, what action you can take to be heard and whether you are entitled to financial compensation, whether for yourself or for the harm caused to your child. You can contact us using our enquiry form, email or telephone 03333 231 637.

Abuse in athletics

Although Shane Sutton, former technical director of British cycling was cleared of eight of nine allegations against him, he was found to have used sexist language against track cyclist Jess Varnish.

In the summer of 2020 there was a wave of allegations in the world of gymnastics, with it being said that there was a culture of fear.

Also, in 2020 UK Athletics acknowledged there was “a lot more work to be done” regarding safeguarding after an independent review of its policies found a “lack of precision” in lines of responsibility. The governing body has been tasked with “taking ownership of all cases”. It has been told to deny a license to anyone who wants to coach children or at-risk adults, if they refuse to disclose a criminal records check certificate.

In August 2020 the BBC reported that UK Sport recorded that there had been 19 allegations of emotional abuse or neglect of British world class programme athletes, by coaches, since 2017, including seven allegations made in 2020. The Freedom of Information request revealed that UK Sport had also received three notifications from governing bodies in the previous three years of top coaches or staff engaging in inappropriate sexual activity with an athlete, including 2 in 2019.

In 2018 a report by UK Sport found that 30% of Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes had either experienced or witnessed “unacceptable behaviour” in their early programmes. Almost one third of athletes (31%) disagreed when asked in the survey if they had the “opportunity to give feedback without fear of negative consequences”.

Position of Trust

Athletics coaches hold a position of trust. If an athletics coach, or any sports coach, engages in a sexual relationship with a child they will be guilty of a criminal offence although not if that child is aged 16 or 17 years of age.

This is morally wrong and therefore, we support Tracy Crouch MP for Chatham and Aylesford, who introduced a Bill into Parliament to amend existing law, to specifically include “sports coach” as a position of trust for the purposes of child sex offences. Such an amendment will mean that sports coaches who engage in intimate relations with their child prodigies, will be guilty of a criminal offence. Therefore, hopefully, by the end of 2020, it will not only be morally wrong but also legally wrong, a criminal offence, for an athletics coach to engage in a sexual relationship with a 16 and 17-year-old.

How do I make a claim?

The first step is to instruct an experienced and specialist solicitor, who specialises in child abuse work, whether it be physical abuse, sexual abuse, bullying, verbal abuse or discrimination.

Either call, complete an enquiry form or send an email. We will discuss your concerns and advise you, without any obligation to proceed, on your rights, the opportunity to be heard, to receive justice and pursue a claim for financial compensation for the consequences of the harm caused.

You can call us now on 0333 323 1637.

Is there a time limit on making claims for sexual abuse that occurred at an athletics club?

There are generally no time limits for prosecuting abusers for criminal offences.  However, there are time limits for making a financial compensation claim. Usually, victims have three years from the time the abuse took place.

However, there is an exception where a child has been abused: time does not run against them until they become an adult, at the age of 18. Therefore, they have until the 21st birthday to make a claim for compensation. It may also be possible to extend that time limit where an individual, abused in athletics, has not been able to speak about what happened to them.  The courts understand that individuals who have been abused may not find it easy to talk about their experiences and therefore a court has the discretion to extend the time for bringing a claim, meaning compensation claims for  abuse which occurred at athletics clubs can be heard many years down the track.  However, it is important to note that extending time it is at the discretion of the court. Therefore, a claim should be pursued as soon as possible, as there is no guarantee that the time limit will be extended.  

What is the process of making a claim?

Our child abuse team will arrange an initial consultation to discuss the circumstances of your case.  We will refrain from asking any specific details about the abuse and will only ask when we have earned your trust and you are ready.

Once we have carried out inquiries and the evidence is gathered, we will then contact the athletics club in question, on your behalf, notifying them that you are claiming compensation for abuse.  They can either choose to accept the allegations and settle the claim or defend them.  If the latter occurs, we are likely to recommend court proceedings

We will support you in getting medical reports detailing the mental and physical effects of abuse.  We will also advise you on what you can claim for and the likely level of compensation.

How long with the process take?

Claims for athletics abuse can take a couple years because of, principally, two reasons. First, the allegations need to be investigated and once that investigation has taken place, for the details to be given to the responsible athletics club, as the basis of the claim. There are time limits for an athletics club to investigate the allegations and to respond, indicating whether they accept the allegations, or not. That time limit is three months.

Once we understand the consequences of the harm caused, we will gather medical evidence to support the consequences and effects of the abuse. That evidence will be presented to the athletics club, or their insurers, to demonstrate the harm caused. Such medical evidence will form the basis of negotiations to settle the financial compensation claim.

We will not recommend the claim be settled until it is clear that either the athlete has recovered from the consequences of the abuse they have suffered, or their health has plateaued. We certainly do not wish to settle the claim to early, the consequence of which may be that you do not receive all the compensation you are entitled to. We are committed to recovering full compensation from those responsible for the harm.

Will I have to go to court?


The vast majority of cases that we pursue are settled without our client having to go to court. Well over 90% of the cases we handle are resolved by negotiation with the responsible organisation or, in most cases, their insurers.

In those small number of cases that do go to court, we provide full support, guidance and explanation as to what is involved to reduce anxiety. We wish to emphasise that most cases settle without our client having to go anywhere near a court.

How much will it cost to make a claim?

At IBB we offer ‘conditional fee arrangements’, otherwise known as ‘no win, no fee’.  This means that if your claim is unsuccessful, you will not have to pay any legal fees to our solicitors.

Because we are shouldering the risk of your claim, you can therefore feel confident that we believe it has a reasonable chance of success.

By instructing IBB to manage your compensation claim for abuse occurring whilst you participated in athletics (or when your child participated), you can be confident that you have the best possible chance of success.  We will expertly guide you through the process, providing you and your family with support.

If early settlement is not possible, you can be assured that we will robustly fight your claim, protecting your interests and obtaining the compensation you deserve.

We are committed to supporting victims and getting justice for them.  Every child has the right to participate in extra-circular activities without the risk of harm coming to them.  By bringing a claim for compensation, you are not only empowering yourself, but ensuring those whose negligent acts and/or omissions failed to protect you are held to account. 

What do our clients and independent reviews say about us?

“My experience with IBB Law was fantastic, my case was a very sensitive one dating back to my childhood but was dealt with in a way that I could only have wished for”.

“Precise information to me on time and at all times. Really felt they were getting the best result for me”.

Malcolm Underhill-professional, knowledgeable, and sensitive to my needs during this distressing case. A joy to work with.”

“My experience with IBB Law was excellent from the first phone call right until the end. They don’t give up. They fight all the way to get you justice. Malcolm Underhill took my case and ran with it…”

"We will be forever grateful for your kind and sensitive handling of (the) case and I will, of course, have no hesitation in recommending you and IBB to any other unfortunate individual
should we come across them."

“I would recommend IBB Law as they were very clear from the beginning as to the process, timescale and commitment required to obtain a positive outcome. They were also instrumental in providing the platform for me to work through the experiences I had been through by putting me in touch with the right professional persons”

(Malcolm Underhill) “always very considerate, supportive and encouraging from the outset and always had a positive opinion that I could work through this and come out with a more positive mind frame. I truly believe Malcolm had as much interest in my personal well-being as he did in obtaining the compensation fee. Without Malcolm’s consistent support and guidance to me and my parents, I am sure I would not be in the positive position I find myself in today”.

“My experience with IBB Law was fantastic, my case was a very sensitive one dating back to my childhood but was dealt with in a way that I could only have wished for”.

IBB Law are recommended because of providing “concise and precise information to me on time and at all times. Really felt they were getting the best result for me”.

(Malcolm Underhill) - “professional, knowledgeable and sensitive to my needs during this distressing case. A joy to work with”.

(Malcolm Underhill) - “polite, understanding, thoughtful at all times. Proved to be on my side very successfully…a person I would wish fighting on my side… honourable and worth my trust”

“I am very glad I chose IBB Law as I had a pleasant experience and found the staff to be informative throughout my claim.”

“A truth worthy company; overall I had a good experience. I am very grateful for the help I have received. I would recommend to anyone who is unsure about which company to go with, who may not have knowledge on what they are entitled to.”

Malcolm Underhill, he did a fantastic job on advising with decisions and overall a pleasant person to speak to. I would have a response to emails and my questions were answered. As someone who did not know much about seeking a solicitor, I am very happy with the outcome. Malcolm worked hard on my case and the outcome was better than I had expected. I was explained anything I did not understand and advised where needed.”

“Professional from the start, gave 100% to our case”.

“I wasn’t just a number to IBB Law, they were truly committed to getting justice for me”

“Malcolm Underhill was all about getting justice, working after hours to call me when it was suitable for me to be called in the evening. Very passionate on getting justice, spoke in a way we could understand, not law jargon.”

Contact our child abuse in athletics lawyers today

Contact our no win, no fee child abuse in athletics compensation solicitors now, for advice on how to make a compensation claim for abuse or sexual assault in athletics, or to explore the options and possibilities that are available, without any obligation. Call us today on 0333 123 9099, email or fill in our online form.

We understand it is not easy to talk about what has happened to you, or what has happened to your child. We will certainly not ask you for details of the abuse or sexual assault but ask a limited number of questions so that we may understand the background to what has happened. Such limited information will be sufficient for us to provide you with an immediate advice as to whether we are able to assist you, to bring a claim for compensation on behalf of your son or daughter, or on behalf for yourself, if the assaults occurred many years ago.

If you would like further information on making a compensation claim for child abuse which occurred in athletics or at an athletics club, please call our office on 0333 323 1637 to make an appointment with one of our team.

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