And an even crazier police force that ignores real crime but is always ready to investigate complaints of political incorrectness
The architect of laws protecting child sports stars yesterday criticised abuse zealots after police investigated Cherie Blair's playful slap of a cheeky teenager. Celia Brackenridge, an international athlete turned academic, said that children's sporting chances were being spoiled because some were now being over-protected. "Having been one of the major advocates for a long, long time, we have got to the point where I am saying `whoah, slow down a bit' because it has got out of hand in some areas," Professor Brackenridge said. She fears that Britain's Olympic chances could be harmed by volunteers being driven from youth sport over fears of being accused of attacking or molesting children.
She spoke after six detectives were called in to investigate an incident where Mrs Blair aimed a friendly slap towards the arm of a 17-year-old boy who made rabbit ears behind her head. Professor Brackenridge's pioneering study of sexual exploitation of young athletes led to the creation in 2001 of the Child Protection in Sport Unit, run by the NSPCC with Sports Councils. The unit provided welfare services at the UK School Games in Glasgow, visited by the Prime Minister's wife earlier this month.
Miles Gandolfi, captain of the England under-17 epee fencing team, put his fingers behind Mrs Blair's head while a photograph was taken. Film shows her aiming a harmless slap at his arm and calling him a "cheeky boy" before the pair descended into giggles. After organisers consulted the unit, Strathclyde Police were asked to investigate. Miles was escorted to a side room and spent half an hour giving a statement to detectives. The police have now said no incident had taken place and the matter was closed.
Sport's burgeoning child-protection culture was already under fire from veterans such as Roy Case, chairman of the English golf union's boys' selection committee. He has said volunteers were being discouraged by guidelines saying that winning competitors should not be hugged, nor should children be driven home alone by adults.
Professor Brackenridge, the former Great Britain lacrosse captain based at Brunel University, told The Times: "People say, `We are not going to run our junior club' or `Nobody will drive the bus'. Some people given a child-protection role have become a bit officious."
Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline, sympathised with Mrs Blair but recalled: "There certainly have been well-documented cases where sporting coaches have been discovered to have been abusing children." Steve Boocock, the director of the Child Protection in Sport Unit, said: "Parents are generally very supportive." Miles, from Chelsfield, Kent, said yesterday. "I had no idea why the police wanted to speak to me. I thought it was a joke."
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