Key points from the Quinlan report into safeguarding at the Lawn Tennis Association

Published 15 February 2019 By: Joseph Bryan

Tennis Ball Grass

On 25 January 2019 the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) published the report of an independent inquiry into events at Wrexham Tennis Centre (WTC).1 The LTA Board had commissioned the inquiry in December 2017 after WTC’s former Head Coach Daniel Sanders was convicted of sexual offences committed against a child he had been coaching.

The overriding objective of the independent review – as set out in its terms of reference2 – had been to ensure that any failings of the LTA were brought to light in order for lessons to be learned and to ensure those failings were not repeated. With that objective in mind, the findings made in the report are wide-ranging and emphatic. In short, the independent panel (chaired by barrister Christopher Quinlan QC3) found that there had been a series of safeguarding failings over the six-year period covered by the review.

In light of these findings, the report makes recommendations for each of the LTA, WTC and Tennis Wales to improve their safeguarding arrangements (as discussed below). It also acknowledges, however, that the LTA has recently implemented safeguarding changes; the report expresses confidence that, as a result of those changes, if Mr Saunders’ 2012 case arose today it would be handled differently and more effectively.4

The article highlights the pertinent features of the report, summarises its recommendations and assesses its wider importance for the sporting community.

Background to the independent review

The LTA is the national governing body of tennis in Great Britain. WTC is a community indoor tennis centre in Wrexham. Tennis Wales is the national governing body of tennis in Wales; it has its own Safeguarding Lead but is supported by the central LTA safeguarding team. Mr Saunders was the Head Coach at WTC – one of approximately 15 coaches at the centre. On 30 June 2017, Mr Saunders pleaded guilty to various sexual offences committed against a young tennis player while he was Head Coach. His sentence was six years’ imprisonment.

The LTA considered that it was necessary to investigate Mr Saunders’ activities. It therefore commissioned the independent review. The period for the review was from 2012, when concerns were first raised about his conduct, to his conviction in 2017.

Findings

The full findings of fact made by the panel are extensive and reference should be made to the report for the detail. In summary, the essential findings were as follows:

  • In 2012, WTC failed to properly address complaints made about the behaviour of its coaches, including Mr Saunders. This was because it failed to refer the matter to the LTA and embarked on an internal investigation when it should not have done: the investigation should instead have been carried out independently. Moreover, the investigation was defective (including by failing to consult sufficiently widely), and it was undertaken by people who did not have the necessary safeguarding skills and experience for the task. The resulting report and the analysis of it were also seriously flawed.5

  • In 2012 and in subsequent years, WTC repeatedly failed to act on further complaints about the behaviour of coaches, including Mr Saunders.6

  • Tennis Wales failed to identify the safeguarding concerns that should have been evident in the flawed 2012 WTC report. Tennis Wales thereafter failed to properly oversee WTC.7

  • The LTA failed to investigate the risks that should have been evident to them and failed to initiate proceedings against Mr Saunders (either for misconduct or on safeguarding grounds).8

  • Subsequently, the LTA failed to react sufficiently to further complaints and disclosures relating to WTC and failed to properly manage its own safeguarding Action Plan devised in 2012.9

Recommendations

The recommendations made in the report include the following:10

  • In future, safeguarding matters of the seriousness of Mr Saunders’ case should be referred immediately to the LTA, as it was not appropriate for WTC to conduct an internal investigation into Mr Saunders.

  • The biannual LTA audits of high-performance centres should be multi-departmental, including reviews of both performance and safeguarding.

  • So far as its high-performance programmes are concerned, the LTA should reflect on its present policies and ensure that they are consistent with the "Theme 5 Safeguarding Recommendations" in the Duty of Care in Sport Report, 2017.11

  • Tennis clubs, counties (including Tennis Wales) and the LTA should monitor and ensure that all activities, tournaments and trips to events are conducted in accordance with the LTA’s 2018 Safeguarding at Events and Competitions Policy.

  • The LTA should devise and make mandatory a form of online or in-person safeguarding training at a level suitable for all persons at tennis clubs who either work with children or are responsible for persons who work with children (including board members).

  • The LTA should consider the Safeguarding Policy’s content with a view to making it more accessible and easier to engage with for children and young people or to issue a policy entirely for that constituency.

  • The LTA should review whether it has sufficient "child friendly" resources designed to encourage children/young people to disclose and report concerns. Such a review would include consideration of its website and social media.

  • The LTA should review and ensure that the present and future provision for training and development of the members of its Safeguarding Team and Safeguarding and Protection Committee is sufficient.

  • The LTA and Tennis Wales continue to work to achieve clarity as to Tennis Wales’ precise safeguarding duties and responsibilities.

  • The LTA should review how it records low-level concerns which would not otherwise justify a formal case record under the LTA’s policy on the "Management of Safeguarding Cases and Reporting Standards".

  • Tennis Wales should consider making the Safeguarding Officer role a full-time position.

  • Tennis Wales should review and update as appropriate its safeguarding policies in light of the LTA’s 2018 safeguarding policies and the content of the safeguarding page of its website more generally.

  • Tennis Wales should have a clearly identified link to the LTA safeguarding page on the page of its website.

  • All accredited tennis clubs including WTC should adopt the LTA’s Safeguarding at Events, Activities and Competitions 2018 policy immediately.

  • Individuals at WTC (and all accredited clubs) with designated safeguarding responsibilities should complete successfully both online and face-to-face safeguarding training.

  • Children and parents upon obtaining British Tennis membership should receive an information sheet which includes details of (1) where they can find online the LTA and local (i.e. club county and Tennis Wales or Tennis Scotland) safeguarding policies, (2) the identity and contact details of the LTA regional safeguarding officer and (3) the identity and contact details of their club welfare/safeguarding officer.

Response to the report: a culture shift

The report of the independent inquiry is the latest in a string of reviews into safeguarding commissioned by the LTA. In the 12 months leading up to the appointment of this latest panel, the LTA had ordered investigations into the operation of its disciplinary, licensing and safeguarding processes (October 2016) and into its safeguarding processes and procedures based on specific case reviews (February 2017). It had also commissioned in March 2017 an independent audit of WTC by Gill Camina of the consultancy Universal Safeguarding Solutions in response to Mr Saunders’ arrest.12

Plainly, those previous inquiries resulted in a significant change in the safeguarding culture in tennis, including new processes, policies and resources at the LTA. This is reflected in the conclusions of the Quinlan inquiry: according to its report, the panel considered that the LTA safeguarding team is now “much better placed” to deal with cases such as Mr Saunders’s.13 Accordingly, as the report recognises, the panel’s recommendations “are, necessarily, few”.14

The seriousness and breadth of the failings recorded in the report cannot, however, be downplayed. In a press statement issued on publication of the report, both the CEO of the LTA, Scott Lloyd, and a trustee of WTC, Jon Ainge, issued unreserved apologies. Along with the CEO of Tennis Wales, Simon Johnson, they have committed their organisations to implementing the recommendations and improving standards of safeguarding in tennis.15

The change in safeguarding culture has already borne fruit in the LTA’s current Safeguarding Strategy 2018-2020,16 which the report describes as “an admirable document”.17 The strategy is built on four pillars, each of which is accompanied by an objective.

  • Pillar 1: Places to Play. Objective: “We want to ensure that tennis venues are safe spaces to play our sport, with safeguarding at the heart of what tennis venues do.

  • Pillar 2: People. Objective: “Ensuring coaching is safe by implementing the highest standards for our Accreditation scheme, and mandating this at our registered venues. Making it clearer to players and parents what safe coaching looks like so that safe choices can be made.

  • Pillar 3: Awareness. Objective: “Improving safeguarding awareness and knowledge across our sport to prevent safeguarding issues, but also ensuring we can effectively identify concerns and react correctly if needed.

  • Pillar 4: Case Management. Objective: “Best in class case management processes to robustly manage incidents and discipline those who seek to bring harm to our sport.

According to the report, each pillar “informs and drives” procedural changes.18 The procedural changes so far implemented by the LTA include:

  • From October 2018, each LTA-registered tennis club and venue is required to meet approved safeguarding guidelines and to appoint a trained Welfare Officer.19

  • From October 2019, all coaching activity at registered venues is to be undertaken by LTA-accredited coaches only.20

Conclusion

The Quinlan report commends the “recent significant and impressive developments” of the LTA safeguarding team, in particular the expansion of the number of posts in that team and the fact that it has expanded regionally.21 The LTA has also launched a new case management system “to better focus its safeguarding effort22 and is rolling out a new, independent whistleblowing hotline, which will eventually be available to the entire tennis community.23 If, however, the LTA is to achieve is stated aim of being at the forefront of safeguarding in sport by 2020,24 work remains to be done: the recommendations of the independent review ought to be implemented in full, as indeed the LTA has committed to do.

The terms of reference note that the report will be shared with Sport England.25 Beyond tennis, sport will no doubt pay close attention to the practical safeguarding recommendations made by the panel, many of which have universal relevance. As the report observes in the context of the WTC High-Performance Programme: “In that elite environment the safeguarding risks are more pronounced. It was in this environment that Mr Saunders offended, repeatedly. It is in such environments that we must all be alert to the risk of abuse.”26 In this respect, the list of recommendations recorded above will serve as a useful checklist of practical steps which other sporting organisations should consider applying or adapting to their own safeguarding strategies.

National governing bodies operating elite-level high-performance programmes should already be familiar with the government-commissioned independent review into Duty of Care in Sport published in April 2017.27 Baroness Grey-Thompson’s report is the touchstone for safeguarding in sport. It is no surprise, then, that the Quinlan report recommends that: “So far as its high-performance programmes are concerned, the LTA should reflect on its present policies and ensure that they are consistent with the "Theme 5 Safeguarding Recommendations" in the Duty of Care in Sport Report, 2017.28 While the Quinlan report recognises that “policies are only the first building block in effective safeguarding”,29 it is vital for tennis and other sports to have in place appropriate institutional procedures so that safeguarding cases are dealt with promptly and effectively. As the panel found, “the LTA struggled to get a proper handle or grip on this case in 2012. It appears to have been passed from one committee to the next […]”.30

At the very least, the fact that the report’s recommendations resonate throughout sport ensures that safeguarding and duty of care will remain at the top of the sporting community’s agenda in 2019.

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Author

Joseph Bryan

Joseph Bryan

Barrister, Littleton Chambers

Joseph is a junior barrister specialising in sports, employment and commercial law. He practises from Littleton Chambers, where he is a member of the Sports Law Group. His recent sports-related practice has included advising and representing clients in proceedings in the IAAF Disciplinary Tribunal, the National Anti-Doping Panel and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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