“Using sport as a way of approaching sensitive subjects”
As the coordinator of action carried out in partnership by the French Rugby Federation and Sport and Citizenship, the association Colosse aux pieds d’argile visited continental and overseas parts of France to raise awareness and train members of the public and professionals from the legal protection of young people (PJJ). A project was developed following an experiment run in Polynesia by the founder and director-general of the association, Sébastien Boueilh.
How did you get the idea for the project run with the PJJ services?
This project arose from an experiment in Polynesia, where I tested my own resilience. I was asked to speak to child sex offenders in prison. I was face to face with criminals and had to shake hands with them, which, as a victim, was hard. In the end, it went very well. Our main discovery was that 80% of them had been victims of sex abuse as children. I was next asked to intervene with young people being followed by the PJJ. The idea was to work with them on the notion of empathy. To do that we used rugby, a sport we are familiar with at Colosse. The idea was to show what rugby meant to me as an individual, and also to provide a framework with set rules to be respected in order to work on consent through playing. It was only after the activity that we got together and I told them why I was there. At that moment the silence was thoroughly broken. Some of them admitted to being victims of violence and sexual abuse and we became aware of the scale of the problem. It was then essential for us to go further and to extend this project to the whole of France. That is the origin of this project, supported and certified by the Impact 2024 programme.
In order to gain the confidence of the PJJ’s young people, is it important for them to want to play together before their awareness is raised?
That is an important element of the project. It is clear that at the beginning of the intervention, the young people are very reticent. We still manage to integrate everyone into the group gradually. For our activity in the Paris region we went even further and made the instructors play too. We succeeded in creating a relationship of confidence by playing. A relationship between us and the young people, and also between the young people and their instructors. We got away from the teacher/pupil relationship and brought everyone together playing rugby. When we explained why we had come, this experience together helped us deal with this sensitive subject and have a constructive debate. Sport can become a mediation tool.
The project was also addressed to PJJ professionals. How did you intervene with them?
At Colosse we have a training scheme. We are not there to act as a witch hunt, but to ensure the safety of children and instructors. It is important to teach them how to detect signs from victims who do not dare to speak, and also to give them training about how predators behave, how to listen to what victims say, and how to deal with this. It is a complete project which needs to be assimilated to ensure that abuse is
“Working on consent and empathy by doing sport”
This experiment has opened up new perspectives for collaboration. Are you planning future projects with stakeholders in the legal system?
We are going to pursue our collaboration with the PJJ and with certain regions such as the Ile de France. We are also active in the overseas territories, with a number of interventions in Reunion, Mayotte and French Guiana. One of the aims of this project is to strengthen ways to use sport for objectives other than simply playing. Sport is a relevant lever for dealing with these sensitive subjects, building bridges and implementing long-term measures. Once the impact is made, the shockwaves will continue to spread.
Since 2020, this subject has been a political priority, in France and elsewhere. How do you see the advances that have been made?
It is important to remember that the present government and the one before it have done more than any others in the area of child protection at all levels. In the field of sport, the former Minister, Roxana Maracineanu, made this subject a priority. We should therefore be pleased about what has already been achieved. Even if we seem to advance slowly, we are steadily taking action for child protection, and that is important. However, one aspect which still needs tightening up is that of background checks in the field of sport. This is linked to prevention, because to have a record an abuser must be denounced. So we must continue to take steps to break the silence.
Find this article and more in our special magazine :
PREVENTING SEXUAL ABUSE AND PROTECTING PEOPLE