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Child Safeguarding And Sport

View profile for Christian  Edwards
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We all know how important it is encourage children to participate and flourish in sport, however we should also remember that the safeguarding of children involved in sporting activities is of paramount importance.

Whilst for some years now, those involved in coaching or mentoring children may have been subject to CRB checks (now covered under the Disclosure and Barring Service following the implementation of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012), this system has not been without criticism; particularly in terms of it being seen to be reactive rather than proactive. Accordingly, the UK government continues to work and promote legislation in order to ensure the welfare and safety of children.

Larger organisations such as the Football Association have in place their own additional safeguards and requirements. Such organisations have both the resources and knowledge to implement the safeguards. However for smaller and often volunteer led organisations, this is not always the case. It is the smaller local club/organisation which is the trigger for any sporting career as most if not all children start playing or participating in sport through their local club.

As is described further below, these local clubs are bound by the same provisions as the regional or national clubs/organisations.                                                  

The evolving legislation and requirements impact on all organisations/employers notwithstanding their nature, size and knowledge; and with particular reference to children. The law does not give any leeway to smaller and amateur organisations and applies across the board.

The legal framework for the safeguarding of children in sport is found in such legislation as the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (“the SVGA”) and the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (“the PFA”). The intention of the SVGA is to ensure an effective means of identifying and barring those persons who are deemed to be unsuitable for work with children and vulnerable adults.  The PFA in turn, sets out the definition of “regulated activity” to identify those types of activities which would be covered by the SVGA.

Take as an example a local football club with a number of children’s teams from under 8’s upwards. Often those people involved in helping to coach children play the sport are parent volunteers who give up their time to help develop their child’s interest in the game. Often such clubs are run by a committee; again usually volunteers or sometimes with a paid club secretary or administrator responsible for the day to day running of the club.

Under the provisions of the SVGA:

  1. Are regulated activities being carried out (see further below)?
  2. There is a duty not to employ or use as a volunteer a person who is on the “barred list”; and
  3. It is a criminal offence not to refer someone who is dismissed/resigns and is suspected of “harm” to a child.

Those provisions are rather strict and for a rather obvious reason. Whilst it is not compulsory for those running sporting clubs/associations to carry out a Criminal Record Check (CRC) on all individuals, it will be an offence if a person is subsequently employed who was on the barred list. In other words, a CRC check would have revealed such information.

It is therefore good practice to carry out CRC checks. The DBS publishes a fact sheet which is readily available online and which seeks to detail procedures and obligations in this regard.

Regulated activity.

Many smaller clubs/organisations rightly question whether it is proportionate and necessary in every case to carry out a CRC check. What for example, of a parent who helps out on the weekend in taking children to and from venues?

Unfortunately, if that parent is doing it regularly, he or she is covered by the legislation of carrying out “regulated activity” and it is therefore prudent for the club to carry out the appropriate checks.

What amounts to regulated activity?

  • Covers children under the age of 16 and not 18. However if a child (or even adult) is older than 16, he or she may still be classed as vulnerable and therefore subject to the provisions of the SVGA.
  • Covers teaching, training, care, supervision, advice or treatment and transportation
  • The legislation covers people present in changing rooms even when supervised
  • Unsupervised coaching and mentoring
  • Transporting youth team/player to and from venues (the example above)

What of club staff who have already been employed but have not been checked? For example this would cover a situation where a long serving coach has coached at a club but has not been subject to a check because his or her involvement in the club pre-dates any legislation.

Firstly is the person carrying out regulated activity? If not, there is no need legal obligation to perform a search. If so, is it reasonable for the club secretary/administrator to request that the coach be subject to a check? Legally and insofar as that coach may be formally retained under a contract of employment, that may need to be revised.

Sports bodies are not required by law to have an effective child protection policy; but quite clearly, in light of the provisions of the SVGA, it makes sense that sports bodies adopt such a policy or at the very least, set out a procedure of best practice which it ought to follow.

In Summary, it is always a good idea to regularly analyse the activity of your coaches and/or volunteers to consider whether their activity can be defined as regulated. My advice would always be that every club or organisation should have a policy of best practice and that it is indeed good practice to run checks on all volunteers and coaches involved in your club whether you consider their activity regulated or not.

Christian Edwards is Partner at JCP Solicitors and head of the Business Disputes team. Christian has an ever growing sports law practice, where he and his team advise sporting teams and organisations on contractual and membership matters, individual players and officials on employment and disciplinary matters including claims for discrimination and breaches of natural justice.

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