Violence at sports school on police radar

The start of the school year at the Murjāņi Sports Gymnasium (MSĢ) has been tough for a 14-year-old student who has been violently treated by four senior students. Several administrative violation proceedings have been initiated by the State Police regarding events in the first days of the school year, Latvian Television reports.

MSĢ is Latvia's only state-maintained sports boarding school, and students are admitted to it starting with 8th grade. MSĢ principal Sergejs Čevers acknowledged in an interview with LTV that incidents of peer-to-peer violent attitudes in MSĢ are not a new situation, but now the management of the sports school is firmly committed to tackling the deeply-rooted problem.

In September, the State Police Riga Region Administration in Pierīga North Precinct began four administrative violation proceedings regarding emotional and physical violence between September 3 and 5 of other pupils against an MSĢ student born in 2009, State Police spokeswoman Ilze Jurēvica informed.

All four blamed for the raids are lugers, three of whom were born in 2005 and one in 2007. LTV informally knows that the systematic violence against one school entrant at the start of the school year was a kind of initiation.

For MSĢ, this is not a new situation, which is also confirmed by the school principal.

“They have finally started talking - young people, parents have started talking about these things,” said MSĢ principal Čevers. “It's a signal that things that have been going on for years, we and the entire [school] administration would not want to allow anymore. Secondly, I wouldn't want to sweep it under the rug and say it's all awfully well.”

Čevers has been the principal for two years. He says he has declared a war against violence at the facility he runs. One of the four accused has already removed documents from the school, the other three have been warned. Čevers explained that the warning means excluding athletes from school in case of repeated misconduct, plus they have been assigned additional work with a school psychologist and a classroom tutor.

Interim sanctions have also been imposed by the Latvian Luge Sports Federation (LKSF).

“At this time, while the circumstances are being clarified, those involved have been suspended from participating in the tryouts,” LKSF general secretary Kristaps Mauriņš told LTV. “As a result, they don't take part in special training because the inventory is all sourced by the federation. These are currently sanctions on the part of the federation against those involved.”

Several MSĢ alumni interviewed by LTV disagreed with interviews in front of the camera because they play a visible role in the Latvian sports system, but all of them confirm that violence among students, especially against younger class students, was common at all times. Violent humiliations are easier to avoid when there is a back of older pupils, either an older brother or loyal mates.

No radical steps are planned by the LKSF and athletes in police sight are likely to return to active circulation.

“There is work to be done in our view - not just with the affected side, but with the other side,” Mauriņš said about the federation's plans. “It needs to be explained how bad this is, what consequences this has not only for the injured party but also for the perpetrators themselves in the future.”

The inability for years to create a safe environment for MSĢ students is described by its former alumni as an inevitable side phenomenon of a sports internship. Some graduates in the behind-the-scenes talks pointed to the need to eliminate the school in its current format because the school does not meet modern trends and requirements. Principal Čevers is also aware that serious reform will be inevitable, but liquidation, he said, would be a hasty move.

“What is realistic is that there is absolutely no future for Murjāņi in such a model,” Čevers said. “I believe, and that is what I said when I participated in the competition for the post of principal, that Murjāņi could remain as a preparatory center for individual Latvian teams.”

Čevers' vision is to welcome only high school-aged people and only those who are national team candidates into the school in the future.

In Murjāņi, studies are subordinate to sport, but most students do not become professional athletes.

In order to make the process more efficient for society, Čevers points to the need to work with an institution of higher education, promoting the acquisition of the profession already in Murjāņi, so that the acquired education becomes the basis for continuing the studies in the institution of higher education starting from year 2.

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