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  • Norman Brook

Safeguarding Children in Sport – Benefits & Risks

In previous articles published here, I have highlighted the absence of safeguarding policies and practice in sports organisations in South Africa. I believe the same could be said in most Medium and Low Income Countries (MLICs) across the world where National Sports Organisations have still to grasp this issue. Whilst great strides have been made in High Income countries to address the matter recent cases of historical child abuse in sport have highlighted the risk that not acting on this issue presents to sports organisations.  The adoption of safeguarding policies and practice in sports organisations will benefit children in sport creating a safe and enjoyable environment for them practice sport and develop as individuals. The risk of not adopting safeguards not only puts children at risk, but also puts the organisations responsible for governance in sport at risk of litigation and reputation loss.

UNICEF UK has led an international working group which has developed the International Safeguards for Children in Sport. I am pleased to have contributed to the working group as a member of one of the learning sets. If we are going to ensure the safety of children taking part in sport and protect the integrity, reputation and funds of National Sports Federations around the world, it is vital that such organisations in MLICs come to the table and start to implement these standards.

For this to happen we need international bodies such as the International Olympic Committee, United Nations Office on Sport for Development & Peace and Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport (CABOS) to encourage the adoption of the International Safeguards for Children in Sport by targeting the International Sports Federations and National Sports Departments of Governments.  International Sports Federations can apply downward pressure through their regional structures to encourage National Sports Federations to adopt safeguarding policies and implement procedures. At the same time National Sports Departments can require National Sports Federations to adopt safeguards. National Sports Federations are dependent on funding either that cascaded down through their International Federations or Government funding which flows through their Department of Sport.  A requirement of funding should be the adoption of safeguards for children in sport as a key component of good governance.

To see if my fears that little was being done in South Africa to implement safeguarding of children within formal sporting structures were valid, I recently surveyed the websites of ten sports in South Africa to see if they have safeguarding policies or procedures and if there is information on their websites how children or parents can raise concerns. The ten sport were chosen randomly from those being surveyed annually by the Eminent Persons Group on Transformation in Sport and were all considered sports for children. Of the ten websites surveyed not one had any information on the safeguarding of children in their sport. One, South African Swimming, made a one line mention of child protection in their constitution which is available on their website. It read under clause 4.13 “Ensure that the Child Protection Policy for persons working with minors is rigorous.” The lack of information on the website suggests that the Child Protection Policy may not be as rigorous as intended.

My feeling is that if sports organisations in South Africa do not have safeguards for children in place, it is likely to be reflective of all MLICs given that South Africa is a leading sports nation.

The International Safeguards for Sport give the following reasons why sports organisations should safeguard children in their sports structures:

  1. Recognition  – Key organizations such as the International Olympic Committee have acknowledged this issue.

  2. Media – Cases of abuse are increasingly reported.

  3. Human Rights – United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.

  4. Duty of Care – If you are responsible for children you have a fundamental duty of care to ensure they are safe.

  5. Scientific Evidence – Research suggests that abuse in sport is a key issue.

  6. Benefits of Sport – Safeguards can help maximise these benefits.

  7. Reputation – Cases of abuse can threaten the integrity of your organisation, sport and community.

I would add to their list the following two reasons:

  1. Moral Responsibility – Sports Federations have a moral  responsibility to contribute towards the eradication of violence against children in society by ensuring children in their sport’s systems are safe.

  2. Risk – In an increasingly litigious society it is only a matter of time before a National Sports Federation will be sued for not taking measures to safeguard children participating in their sport.

This lack of visibility of safeguarding measures in the sampled South African Sports Federations highlights the need to push forward the agenda around implementation of the International Safeguards for Children in Sport in the Federations and their structures in MLICs.

Norman Brook MBE was a Child Protection Training Tutor and Trainer of Tutors for Sportscoach UK during the 1990’s and 2000’s. He was responsible for developing and implementing Child protection policies and procedures at the British Triathlon Federation where he was the Chief Executive Officer. He served on a working group contributing to the development of UNICEF UK’s International Standards for Safeguarding Children in Sport.  Through his work on developing coaches and coaching resources for sport and development settings, Norman has ensured that all publications address the issue of safeguarding children participating in sport.

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