Recent concern surrounding sports coaches’ interaction with young people has reflected a fundamental change in the way coaches and others regard the role of sports. In this paper, we consider the identification and definition of the contemporary sports coach (whether acting in a professional or volunteer capacity) as, in Foucault’s term, a ‘dangerous individual’. We suggest that the mainstream discourse of child protection and safeguarding, variously interpreted and applied, has contributed to a culture of fear in sports coaching practice. Drawing on data from a recently completed Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project, we argue that contradictions in policy and practice, which serve to privilege a particular discourse, have cast the coach as both predator and protector of young sports performers. This has undermined the role of the coach, led to intergenerational fear, created doubt about coaches’ intentions and promoted their adoption of defensive and protective practices. Utilising the concept of governmentality, we argue that, as a consequence, fundamental trust-based relationships, necessary in healthy athlete−coach engagement, have been displaced by a discourse embodied in sterile delivery and procedure governed by regulation and suspicion.
Focusing on swimming, this article offers a genealogical account of safeguarding in sport. Drawing specifically on Foucault's work, it examines the ‘politics of touch’ in relation to the social and historical formation of child protection policy in sports coaching.
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