Rights and wrongs : a philosophical consideration of children's participation in elite sport
The experiences of some children participating in the demanding and intensive world of elite sport appear to compromise one of the primary aims of both childhood and parenthood, which should be for children to arrive on the threshold of adulthood with their futures open and unlimited. A body of evidence in the medical and socio-psychologicalliterature contends that child athletes participating in elite sport are being harmed physically, psychologically, and socially by the intensive training and competition practices required of athletes in sports such as women's gymnastics, figure skating, and others. Participation by children in the highest levels of sport change attitudes and impels behaviours in ways that are unique in their extent and devastating in their consequences. As the varying and often conflicting agendas of athletes, parents, coaches, agents, and sporting bureaucracies come into conflict, considerations of care and regard for the athletes become down played or even ignored, resulting in these young athletes being harmed, and their futures compromised. Children are characterised by their vulnerability, naivety, and inability to formulate their own life-plans, necessitating a degree of parental paternalism in their relationships with adults. This paternalism is justified by the child's dependency on others for protection, and for developing the necessary skills for self-sufficiency and self-determination secured through their burgeoning autonomy as they advance towards adulthood. Under law, parents are given primary responsibility for the health and welfare of their children, because they are ideally situated to determine their child's best interests. In sport, this responsibility is regularly transferred from the parents to the coach and other involved adults. Unfortunately, however, children may be exploited by the very individuals who are entrusted with their care and nurturance. A further body of evidence claims the inescapability of paternalism in relationships between adults and children in elite sport has been exploited: it is disrespectful of the child's burgeoning autonomy, and jeopardises his or her right to an open future. The child's right to an open future is an autonomy right-in-trust saved until he or she is more fully formed and capable of exercising self-determination. This right may be violated in advance of adulthood by foreclosure of options. In this thesis, I argue that elite sport children require a form of paternalism that protects their interests while at the same time is autonomy-respectful. This is actualised by a bifurcated rights system, which works towards securing non-harmful sports practices and preventing the premature foreclosure of life opportunities for elite child athletes post-sport.