Keeping football and sport a safe place for all young people 

Two youth footballers in action on the pitch

This is why we have a duty to make sure that our game and sport is a safe place for young people. - Credit: pxhere.com

Child sexual abuse scandal was a subject I didn’t really want to write about in my column but this week I renewed my FA safeguarding children certificate and one of the players who bravely came forward sharing his unacceptable experience and abuse while at Chelsea was Gary Johnson, a player I knew very well.

I thought I needed to air my views and try to make people aware of how we can help to safeguard all children playing football or involved in sport.

A four-year review of football between 1970 and 2005 resulted in a 707-page report published by Clive Sheldon QC describing the FA as having 'significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse'.

It was also said that the authorities can no longer become complacent regarding the safeguarding of children in football after an independent review found the FA did not do enough to keep young people in the game safe between 1995 and 2000.

It is important for everyone to recognise their mistakes, and for everyone to ensure sport is safe for all young people.

While renewing my safeguarding children certificate, there were some very disturbing and worrying facts - one which sticks in my mind is disabled children are three to four times more likely to experience mistreatment or abuse while participating in sport.

Research in 2000 demonstrated that, overall, 31 per cent of disabled young people studied had been abused compared to nine per cent for non-disabled youngsters.

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Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and It is vital for all clubs and leagues to make sure they have appropriate safeguarding in place and everyone involved has a clear understanding of the safeguarding policy and procedures and a regardless of whether they are paid or voluntary are made aware of these understandings.

It is our responsibility to create a safe environment for our players and for everyone connected with the club to be aware of signs of poor practice which may cause concern and to know the policy and procedure when any concerns occur.

Each club needs to have a safeguarding officer (welfare officer) in place who in most cases is the first person to contact to start a procedure.

Regardless of how small a concern may be, it is our responsibility to report it to the safeguarding officer who will deal with any disclosure of poor practice and abuse.

Concerns identified as child abuse will fall within five categories:

  • Physical abuse: A child is physically hurt or injured by an adult or an adult give alcohol or drugs to a child or young person 
  • Neglect: A child’s basic physical needs are consistently not met or they are regularly left alone or unsupervised 
  • Sexual abuse: An adult or peer uses a child or young person to meet their own sexual needs  
  • Emotional abuse: Persistent criticism, denigrating, or putting unrealistic expectations on a child or young person 
  • Bullying: Persistent or repeated hostile and intimidating behaviour towards a child or young person. Incidents of poor practice occur when the needs of children and young people are not afforded the necessary priority, so as their welfare is compromised. 

Hazing is any action or situation, with or without the consent of the participants, which recklessly, intentionally, or unintentionally endangers the mental, physical, or emotional wellbeing of a child or young person. Hazing is not tolerated in affiliated football.

As parents, you should be aware of the policies and procedures of the training centre or football club your child attends and know the correct procedure to report any concerns.

It is also important for the parents to know their child is in a safe environment and all staff and people involved have a safeguarding children certificate and a criminal record check (DBS enhanced criminal records checks).

Criminal record checks should not be carried out on anyone under 16 years of age. I must stress as parents, you have the right to ask these questions to help safeguard your child.

Approximately four million children and young people are involved in football.

It is important to recognise that for the vast majority, this is a positive and memorable time that often leads to lifelong engagement with the game be it as a player, ball boy, official, or mascot.

Unfortunately and sadly, this is not always the case.

Affiliated football remains committed to continuing to raise awareness of safeguarding, developing support and training across the game, dealing with inappropriate behaviours, and promoting best practice.

We all need to reflect on the past where things were done differently, sadly without the level of care that every child that played the sport deserved but I must add that the game is a different place to work in now and there has been recognition of errors and significant changes implemented to minimise the risk.

It is important not to be complacent when working with young children because unfortunately, activities that involve children attract the wrong sort of people.

This is why we have a duty to make sure that our game and sport is a safe place for young people.

Remember, safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.

Stay safe and help make sport a safe environment for our children.