Safeguarding Children in Sports: What needs to happen

Football coach speaking to his youth team on the football pitch

The Current Situation

Football and sports clubs are facing increasing scrutiny regarding their safeguarding procedures. This is because of recent media coverage of the Football Sexual Abuse Scandal and Operation Hydrant. As it stands, 340 football clubs have been referenced. 300 alleged suspects and 849 victims have been identified. This spans all tiers of football, from premier league clubs through to amateur levels. The extent of sexual abuse in sports aside from football needs uncovering further.

Football Stadium Player Tunnel

Gaps in Safeguarding

A great deal can be done to safeguard children and young people in sports so that they are protected from harm. Evidently, Operation Hydrant and the Football Sexual Abuse Scandal have highlighted clear shortfalls when it comes to protecting children and young people from abuse. These shortfalls are:


  • Lack of clear and thorough policy and procedures within sport clubs for staff to follow and adhere to.
  • Absence of robust training in safeguarding for all employees (paid or volunteers).
  • An inadequate awareness about the warning signs/signs of abuse.
  • A culture of not listening to young people and taking their concerns seriously.
  • Lack of safer recruitment for all employees (paid or volunteers).


Most importantly, these shortfalls have enabled predatory individuals to infiltrate an industry where they can have unregulated access to children and young people. Suspicions or signs that abuse had taken place were either: (a) not spotted by the staff or (b) not taken seriously by the authorities. If not for the bravery of inspirational individuals who shared their experiences, this abuse would have remained hidden and the abusers would have been able to continue to abuse without consequence.

Moving Forwards

The sports industry has a long way to go to build their safeguarding practice to become in line with other industries such as education and social care. Ownership belongs to the stakeholders in sports clubs and senior management. They must ensure that they are doing everything possible to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm.


So, what do they need to do?

l. Policy

  • Follow Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) and ensure that they are sharing safeguarding concerns with the relevant individuals (e.g. social care).
  • Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) guidance needs to be followed (dependent on the local area).
  • A Designated Safeguarding Lead needs employing with enough time and supervision so that they can do their job effectively.
  • Have a child protection policy that highlights the responsibility of all employers and employees (paid and unpaid) to safeguard children.


2. Procedure

  • Have clear procedures in place that provide guidance on what action to take if there are concerns about a child’s safety or welfare.
  • Ensure there is a process for recording incidents, concerns and referrals, taking into account confidentiality and data protection legislation.
  • Provide a process for dealing with complaints from parents/carers/young people with clear timescales for resolving these grievances.


3. Safer Recruitment

  • Assessing the suitability of paid and voluntary employees to work with children.
  • Ensure that there is a self-declaration about previous convictions and that a criminal record check is completed and evidenced.
  • Gain evidence of the candidate’s identity, qualifications and two appropriate references (references of previous employment with children is essential).
  • Follow up any gaps in employment.
  • Create a safeguarding plan and guidance relating to transporting children or taking them away for tours and tournaments.
  • Ensure children are always adequately supervised.


4. Training

  • Ensure that there is an induction process that involves reading and signing the organisation’s child protection policy.
  • Make sure that all paid and voluntary employees receive robust training on safeguarding children.
  • Safeguarding training is mandatory and regular refreshers must be held. In other industries ‘regular’ would refer to yearly refreshers.
  • Safeguarding training should not be a ‘tick box exercise’ and the training should cover: how employees should recognise, respond and deal with safeguarding concerns.


For further information on minimum requirements for safeguarding and protecting children in sport see: Standards published by Child Protection in Sport Unit.


For details on Matter Ltd.’s CPD Accredited Safeguarding Training Workshop, please visit our course page: An Introduction to Safeguarding Children and Young People.

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