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Safeguarding

Recent allegations and revelations of sexual abuse in football have raised serious concerns around the safety of children in all sports. Tom Walker asked the experts for their thoughts on this serious topic

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management May Jun 2017 issue 131
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With proper safeguarding measures, sporting events like the Sky Bet League One Kids Cup Final are invaluable for children / Adam Davy / press association
With proper safeguarding measures, sporting events like the Sky Bet League One Kids Cup Final are invaluable for children/ Adam Davy / press association

Last November, English football was shocked when former player Andy Woodward spoke publicly about the sexual abuse he had suffered as a young footballer. Woodward recounted how, during his formative years, he had been preyed on by youth coach and scout Barry Bennell, who had the trust of not only Woodward, but his family and the club he was associated with at the time.

Sadly, Woodward’s story was followed by a number of other players coming out with their own stories of exploitation. Those to have suffered abuse included players who made it to the very top of the game – such as former England strikers David White and Paul Stewart.

The revelations resulted in a renewed focus on how talented young athletes are at a heightened risk of abuse – due to factors such as travelling away from home and having to rely on coaches, trainers and scouts for their safety. The adults who take on these roles at grassroots level can be valuable role models to children, but the admiration and level of authority they hold can potentially be misused by individuals looking to manipulate young athletes.

The government is in the process of a duty of care review – headed by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson – that aims to develop a comprehensive plan for how government and the sporting system can more effectively look after people who take part in grassroots sport. While the sector waits for the report to be published, Sports Management asked how organisations are currently approaching safeguarding and whether there is more that sport could do.

Sue Ravenlaw,

Head of equality and safeguarding,

The Football Association

Sue Ravenlaw
Sue Ravenlaw

Reading Andy Woodward’s story in The Guardian was heartbreaking and we applaud his immense courage in coming forward to speak about the horrific abuse he suffered. Barry Bennell remains permanently suspended from football, in line with our procedures.

The FA takes all matters of safeguarding and child protection seriously. We’ve worked with the NSPCC for 16 years and we know how important it is for victims of abuse to be guided to where they can receive independent, confidential support from professionals.

In conjunction with the Premier League, English Football League and County FAs, we have been working to build fun and safe environments in which children and young people can participate. The FA and the football bodies absolutely do not tolerate any form of abuse or bullying in football.

Criminal record checks are required for those in regulated activity with children, in line with legislation and FA regulations. More than 35,000 people go through The FA’s safeguarding children awareness workshop or tailored training every season, and we require every club or league with affiliated teams who are under 18, to have a named, trained designated safeguarding officer, who has been criminal record checked.

We have a section on our website with important information on how to report any concerns about a child’s welfare in football. Reports can be made via designated safeguarding officers, direct to the professionals who work at The FA or via statutory agencies and the NSPCC.

Anne Tiivas,

Head of the Child Protection in Sport Unit,

NSPCC

Anne Tiivas
Anne Tiivas

The football abuse scandal that broke last year has prompted the sport industry as a whole to reflect on its approach to safeguarding and child protection.

We know that safeguarding has come a long way since some of these cases of abuse in football, with the Football Association at the forefront. But we can never be complacent, and now is the time to think how we can make safeguarding even better.

The NSPCC has called for the government to close two legal loopholes to protect more children and check on more adults.

Laws that prohibit teachers and care workers from having sex with 16- and 17-year-olds in their care must extend to anyone working regularly with children – including sports coaches.

And the government should enable organisations to run the most stringent checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) on all adults who work regularly with children – not just those working alone with children.

We would welcome support from sporting bodies in echoing our calls on government to close these loopholes and keep young people safer in sport. Within sport, sharing of information on coaches who have been barred by an NGB has been suggested as a way to stop abusers moving between sports, or indeed other sectors, undetected.

The time is ripe to look at ideas such as this, and consider if they could work in the world of sport, as they already do in sectors such as education and healthcare.

The NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit provides over 200 NGBs with expert guidance and knowledge so that they can develop a safeguarding system and know what to do if there is a child protection issue within their organisation.“

"Laws that prohibit teachers and care workers from having sex with 16- and 17-year-olds in their care must extend to anyone working regularly with children – including sports coaches"

Emma Boggis,

CEO,

Sport and Recreation Alliance

Emma Boggis
Emma Boggis

The sport and recreation sector is committed to safeguarding the welfare of children and adults at risk. Whether a participant, volunteer, spectator or an elite athlete, it is imperative that anyone who engages in sport can do so in a safe, positive environment, free from abuse or harassment.

It’s also important that everyone sees it as their responsibility to think about the role they play in safeguarding. No one can make guarantees here. Having a policy or carrying out a check on an individual on their own won’t work, but doing these things as part of a wider culture that values the importance of safeguarding will help.

Huge progress has been made across the sector in recent years. We know that the introduction of the Child in Sport Protection Unit in 2001, which is part of the NSPCC, has helped many sport and recreation organisations who receive public funding put in place robust policies and procedures for their activity through collaborative working. But the work does not and cannot stop here.

Including safeguarding in A Code for Sports Governance from UK Sport and Sport England, makes clear that effective safeguarding is part of running an effective organisation.

Safeguarding should be viewed as a key organisational priority – with everyone from grassroots volunteers to Board members taking it seriously. It should be viewed as a major ethical and risk issue, and must be given all of the time, resource and support that it requires to be embedded at every level of the organisation.

Of course, increased awareness and education might mean that more cases are reported, as people gain confidence that reports of poor practice or abuse will be treated properly. We should welcome this, but we also need to recognise the resources that are needed to investigate cases properly and the impact this has on those involved.

We welcome the approach the Government is taking, engaging with the sector and being clear that it wants to help to support. It’s good to recognise that it too has a role to play and there are things it can do to improve the various processes and procedures that are in place. No one is complacent here. We have all got work to do, and by working together we can improve things further.

David Meli,

CEO,

England Handball

David Meli
David Meli

The protection of young and vulnerable people in handball is something that England Handball takes extremely seriously.

All people involved in handball must be able to do so in a safe and positive environment and be able to enjoy our sport in whatever capacity they are involved.

England Handball recently achieved the Child Protection in Sport Unit’s (CPSU) Advanced Standard in Safeguarding in Sport. We continuously review all practices and procedures to ensure they remain robust and up-to-date with all current legislation.

England Handball has clear policies and procedures for the protection of children and vulnerable people. These are published on our website and are also available from our safeguarding officer. Safeguarding procedures are also sent out to clubs as part of their Annual Membership Pack and we provide guidance to all our clubs to help support their work with children and young people.

Every club affiliated to England Handball is required to sign up to our Safeguarding and Protecting Young People policy. They are also required to have designated welfare officers. In addition, all lead coaches working with children are DBS checked.

We work with CSPs, the CPSU and other relevant agencies to investigate and deal with any concerns about a child or vulnerable person. All concerns are managed through a Case Management Panel.

Having these policies and procedures in place ensures all allegations and concerns are taken seriously and are dealt with sensitively, fairly and swiftly.

David Turner,

Development lead officer,

Sports Coach UK

David Turner
David Turner

Sports Coach UK takes all matters of safeguarding and child protection seriously, which is why, for more than 20 years, we’ve worked closely with the NSPCC and its Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) to promote good coaching practice and raise awareness among coaches of how to recognise and respond to possible signs of child abuse.

Our safeguarding programme of face-to- face workshops continues to be attended by over 20,000 coaches every year, from a wide range of sports and activities. The face-to-face training gives coaches an opportunity to ask a trained expert questions that they otherwise may not have been able to ask, in a safe, non-judgemental environment.

Having an opportunity to discuss a range of views and share learnings between coaches of various sports also makes for well-rounded and experienced coaches.

We also support the NSPCC’s recommendation to government that safeguarding legislation is updated to include coaching as a ‘Position of Trust ‘and to ensure that all coaches working with children are eligible for an Enhanced DBS with Barred List check. Our own Minimum Standards for Active Coaches state that every coach working with children must have a DBS check or Home Country equivalent. This is implemented via national governing bodies and employers.

These measures are vital to ensure we are doing all we can to protect children from potential harm all the way through to adulthood. Making coaching sessions as safe as possible is essential to children’s long-term participation in, and enjoyment of, sport and physical activity.

We will continue to work in partnership with the NSPCC to promote and advocate the highest standards across the physical activity and sport sectors.

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