Universities and Sports: Why Do Scandals by Athletes Continue in Sports Clubs?

Scandals, including drug incidents, continue to occur in university sports clubs. What is behind this problem? How should university authorities deal with it? Each university needs to examine their management systems.

At Nihon University, drugs including marijuana were found in the dormitory of its American football club last year, leading to a spate of arrests of club members.

Other incidents have also come to light one after another, including the sexual assault of a woman by members of Doshisha University’s American football club and violence against underclassmen by older students in Rikkyo University’s baseball club.

University sports club members tend to develop a sense of solidarity, along with graduates, as they spend a lot of time together in dormitories and other facilities and engage in rigorous training. Such friendly rivalry may lead to an improvement in the level of athletic performance in some respects.

On the other hand, in closed interpersonal relationships, once discipline is disturbed, the problem tends to become widespread. The strong sense of camaraderie may also make self-policing difficult.

University sports clubs are formed by students enrolled at the university, and their activities are officially endorsed by the university authorities. In many cases, universities financially support these clubs.

When a club member is suspected of inappropriate behavior, it is important for university authorities to get involved in the case, rather than leaving the matter to persons who are connected with the club. There is a need to work closely to investigate the facts in detail, and for the results to lead to strict disciplinary and recurrence prevention measures.

In this respect, Nihon University’s responses were too slow. Initially, information about the use of marijuana by members of the club was kept within the club. Even after the university authorities became involved, the marijuana they discovered was not immediately reported to the police. Also, the decision to suspend the activities of the club changed several times and the university’s responses changed course repeatedly.

The lawyers and other experts who compiled the improvement plan for Nihon University described the university organization as a “strong closed society,” pointing out that secrecy and exclusivism prevented an appropriate response. Other universities should take Nihon University’s situation as an object lesson.

The outstanding performance of a sports club leads to higher name recognition for its university, which in turn affects student recruitment. Therefore, power within the university tends to be concentrated in the hands of those in managerial posts in strong sports clubs. For students, too, it is said that they tend to be forgiven for neglecting their academic work as long as their athletic performance is good.

Such a situation may have created a complacent mentality on the part of sports club members, and an atmosphere in which sports clubs are regarded as sacred.

The Japan Association for University Athletics and Sport, which is working to improve the soundness of university sports clubs, holds training sessions for instructors to ensure legal compliance. It would be effective to expand such activities.

Sports have the power to energize society. However, the continuing scandals are dimming its luster.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 24, 2024)