Shut the Safeguarding Loopholes in Sports

November last year, grassroots football was in the spotlight of the media. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to do with the talent coming through the ranks or the state of the art facilities that the country has. It was because a very brave and courageous former player, Andy Woodward, spoke up about the abuse he suffered as a young footballer from his former coach.

In response to this, the Football Association (FA) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) have set up a hotline to encourage victims to contact them. Key England football players have joined together to create a video to explain the key steps to safeguarding children.

Since Andy Woodward has spoken out, several other players including Paul Stewart and David White have told their stories publicly. Woodward has launched an independent trust with former players Steve Walters and Chris Unsworth to support victims, called The Offside Trust.

Andy Woodward described how he had felt suicidal, and battled depression & anxiety whilst faking physical injuries as a youth player. He was having panic attacks that would hinder the rest of his playing career, all due to the abuse he subject to. He has had to suffer with all of this bottled up until the age of 43, when he felt he was able to live without the secret and burden he has carried for over 30 years. He confided in two coaches in his playing career but no-one else knew. He lost his career as a result of this but came out the other side because of the strength of character he has. Others may not have been able to, and we cannot risk this happening to other children.

Sports coaches have a position of trust, responsibility and influence. They can make children’s dreams come true. These coaches are the key to them progressing through the ranks within the sport. This makes it all the more confusing why sport coaches currently do not sit under the same ‘position of trust’ legislation that certain professionals like teachers and social workers fall under.

Sports clubs are no longer able to carry out a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check on anyone working with children on a supervised basis. This was after the Prime Minister relaxed the rules in 2012, when she was Home Secretary. This means people that are barred from working with children can take up support roles within a club going undetected, putting the protection of children at a potential risk to child abusers within the club or to build up their trust and abuse them outside of the club setting.

The NSPCC has been instrumental in campaigning for this loophole to be closed and has urged the government to do so. It has contacted individual sporting associations/governing bodies for them to look at their individual safeguarding practices to ensure they are as strong as possible.

There needs to be more accessible support for children going through the grassroots system in sports. A positive start would be for sports coaches to be legally under the same legislation as teachers and social workers.

Players need ongoing support throughout their career and after it. The management of stress and anxiety is imperative to living a healthy, happy life and career—not just for athletes, but for everyone. Athletes need to be able to express themselves confidentially rather than everything getting on top of them which may affect their career and personal life.


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Written by Mike Thomas, Business Development Manager at Thrive Therapeutic Software Ltd.

Bronwyn SouthrenComment