Children better protected in sport than ever, says grassroots chief

28 November 2016 03:08

Children are better protected from all forms of abuse than ever before but there can never be any complacency about the risks, according to the government agency which funds grassroots sport in England.

How sport looks after youngsters and other vulnerable people is under intense scrutiny after several retired footballers came forward to reveal the sexual abuse they were subjected to by youth coaches at the start of their careers.

This has resulted in four different police forces opening fresh investigations into historic cases and prompted internal reviews at the Football Association and at two of the implicated clubs, Crewe and Manchester City.

But Sport England director of sport Phil Smith said: "We are definitely in a much better place than we were in the 1980s and 1990s but we must avoid any sense of complacency.

"There will always be an element of risk, and not just of sexual abuse, so every sport must make sure that its safeguarding policies and vetting processes are fit for purpose."

Danny Kerry, the coach of Great Britain's Olympic gold medal-winning women's hockey team, agreed with Smith.

"The level of awareness of this issue and the mechanisms for dealing with it are so much better than they were," said Kerry.

The coach added that is now a statutory requirement throughout sport for all youth coaches to have criminal record checks and be trained in how to safeguard children.

Improved vetting of staff and volunteers started to be introduced in the late 1990s, partly as a result of the police investigation into convicted paedophile Barry Bennell's crimes whilst working in youth football for Crewe, Manchester City and Stoke.

The first child protection guidelines were introduced in the FA's Charter for Quality report which overhauled youth development in 1997, with self-certified criminal-record checks coming in a year later.

In 2000, Sport England helped set up the Child Protection in Sport Unit with the NSPCC and the FA trained its first child protection officers.

Over the next four years these steps were built on significantly, with the Football League, Premier League and other sporting governing bodies all adopting similar rules, including compulsory Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks for all those who might work or come into contact with under-18s at clubs, games or races.

Professor Derek Fraser, now the Independent Football Ombudsman (IFO), reviewed football's child protection measures in an authoritative report for the IFO's predecessor organisation, the Independent Football Commission, in 2005.

That report, which was compiled over 18 months, was intended to scrutinise what had already been done and make recommendations for improvements.

Fraser told Press Association Sport that overall his panel was "very impressed" with the "reasonable job" the FA was doing.

"There had clearly been a big effort in this area as the FA was rolling out child protection officers and running lots of courses," said Fraser.

"We made about 20 recommendations and the main ones were about things like the use of images of children in football programmes - how much personal information was revealed about mascots and so on - and on who should pay for CRB checks, how often courses should be renewed and such like."

Fraser explained that the recent introduction of CRB checks, which have since been replaced by Disclosure and Barring Service checks, had resulted in a significant number of coaches being barred from the game, although the vast majority of these were not for sexual abuse. He added the main problem highlighted by his report was bullying.

The FA, which last week announced it had asked Kate Gallafent QC to lead a review into the abuse cases that have been reopened by recent allegations, told Press Association Sport that more than 35,000 people go through its child protection courses every year and there is now a network of 8,500 designated safeguarding officers at clubs and leagues around the country. It also conducts 55,000 criminal-record checks each season.

Source: PA