Upping our game: Why safeguarding in sport should be more than a check-list

Former England and Spurs footballer, Paul Stewart, has described why he believes safeguarding in sport should be more than just a ‘tick box exercise’ if we are to better protect children in future.

Why safeguarding in sport should be more than a check-list

I don’t like lists or tick box exercises. When it comes to safeguarding children, I want to see a practical approach.

It’s clear that institutionally wide, there remains a deficiency in the understanding of safeguarding procedures and how exactly they are put into practice. For example, evidence heard by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse just last month showed that whilst these policies tend to look good on paper, their implementation into the operations of an institution often leave much to be desired.

Sport is no exception. This is why since retiring from football, I’ve been working at the grassroots level to find new ways to safeguard children.

Safeguarding in grassroots sports should be taken seriously; it’s time national governing bodies are held accountable for ensuring coaches, instructors and teachers have an in-depth understanding of safeguarding. In the past two years alone, we’ve seen scandal after scandal break in football, gymnastics, and swimming.

In far too many sports, online courses with a no-fail element are required just so that coaches can continue to work with children; these courses are usually multiple choice answers that can be completed just by going back and selecting another answer if your first is incorrect.

You only need look at failings in the past – whereby individuals have managed to infiltrate organisations because the only requirement was to pass a basic knowledge test in safeguarding, the proverbial “tick box exercise” – to see that we need to reassess
what is required when adults, and in particular coaches, are given licence to operate.

Far too often I’ve heard coaches say that the reason for completing the basic online safeguarding course is to keep their coaching status. This then begs the question: how much knowledge and understanding have you actually retained?

In my opinion, a strategic knowledge of safeguarding should be the minimum anyone working with children or young adults at risk should be required to undertake. This should be done face to face, with a knowledge test at the end so as to ascertain how much the individual has taken away from the course.

We have to accept that over the years we have got it wrong, therefore a new framework and training method needs to be implemented and CPD training courses have to be embedded within organisations. We can no longer hide behind the fact that we operate in the voluntary sector, because that does not exonerate us from liability. Children who are involved in these activities and join any regulated activity have as much right to be safeguarded as those children in elite sports.

Organisations who are creating clubs with upwards of 1000 participants all under the age of 18 should be required to use some of the money they collect annually as part of a safeguarding budget, which will then allow them to continually and professionally develop their safeguarding officers and stakeholders.

Safeguarding is and should be a responsibility for all, so whilst I think the national governing bodies should police anyone working in this sector more effectively, the organisations along with parents also have a responsibility to make sure that the setting their children are involved with, has all the correct policies and procedures in place.

For victims and survivors that have been abused in sport, there are many ways that they can help effect change, including the Truth Project. Part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Truth Project provides survivors with an opportunity to share their experiences and put forward recommendations to help better protect children in future.

Paul Stewart will be participating in the Inquiry’s seminar on mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse on 29 and 30 April 2019. The Inquiry is gathering views and information from a range of experts to support its recommendations to keep children safe.

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