There is an excellent article in the Guardian yesterday, written by David Conn on the subject of child abuse in sport. I was interviewed by David prior to Xmas, and provided some guidance on the state of the law relating to child protection in football in the 70's and 80's.
My article on the 30th November 2016 examines that subject.
Mr Conn's article talks about the work of child protection expert, Celia Brackenridge. She says that UK sport was beset by a "culture of ignorance and denial" until the 1990's, but that matters have very much improved.
In 2001, the NSPCC formed the Child Protection in Sport Unit and this led to a radical improvement amongst sporting organisations. The CPSU developed mandatory safeguarding structures for all the UK's main sports.
Another contributor to the article is Sue Ravenlaw, who worked for the National Coaching Foundation before moving to the Football Association to work on implementing child protection procedures. She is now head of equality and safeguarding at the organisation. She says that the Football Association became alarmed at the convictions of sports coaches in the 1990's and initiated the development of proper procedures.
In 2003, the Football Association was required to apply for criminal record checks. A research team, headed by Celia Brackenbridge analysed 132 cases of investigations run by the Association between 1999 and 2002. They found that 16 involved people operating in youth football, who had, or were alleged to have, a record of sex or violent offending. In 60% of those cases, the allegations were of physical, emotional abuse and bullying accounted. A NSPCC report in 2011 found that 29% of young people playing sport had suffered either sexual harassment and 3% sexual abuse.
Sue Ravenlaw makes the crucial point that criminal records checks constitute child protection. This only safeguards against people who have previously offended. Robust child protection policies, and the determination to implement those policies are key.
The present Disclosure and Barring Service works not only on the basis of people who have criminal conviction, but also on the basis of people who are considered to be a risk to children.
The article lends some support to the Football Association's claim that football is safer than ever. However Celia Brackenbridge and a colleague, Daniel Rhind point out that the sport should not believe that it can eradicate abuse or abusers.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer