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Sports safety: should it be mandatory to report child protection & safeguarding concerns?

Football huddle
Thursday, 30 July 2020 By Richard Bush

It is essential to any child protection and safeguarding system that concerns about the safety of those the system is designed to protect are reported to those who can take appropriate action. If that does not happen, the system is fundamentally undermined. Safeguarding reviews in sport,[1] and numerous cases outside of sport,[2] have consistently shown that failures in respect of the reporting of concerns have gone on to have serious consequences.

The principal aims of a sports governing body (SGB) in respect of child protection and safeguarding typically include, in general terms:

  • raising awareness of child protection and safeguarding issues, and creating a safe and secure environment for participation;
  • ensuring that there are clear reporting procedures in place in order to (a) receive reports of abuse (which is the primary concern of this article), and (b) refer reports of harm/abuse to the appropriate external agencies and/or the police;
  • ensuring that appropriate procedures are in place in order to respond to instances of harm/abuse, or potential harm/abuse and, where necessary, remove those who pose a known risk of harm from participation in the sport; and
  • monitoring and maintaining appropriate policies and procedures in order to ensure that child protection and safeguarding standards remain at an appropriate level.

The receipt of reports of child protection and safeguarding concerns by an SGB is especially crucial; because of course it is only if an SGB is made aware of concerns that it can meet these key aims, particularly:

  1. referring concerns to appropriate external agencies and/or the police (in the UK, a report to a local authority will in general terms be appropriate if it is suspected that a child or adult at risk is being abused or neglected, whereas if a child or adult at risk is in immediate danger the police should be contacted); and
  2. responding effectively to concerns within the sport itself (for example, by supporting affected individuals, addressing inappropriate conduct so that it is not repeated and, as above, removing individuals from the sport where that is necessary).

Therefore, every SGB should seek to create and maintain a strong safeguarding culture that encourages the reporting of child protection and safeguarding concerns. A possible step further would be to make the reporting of such concerns a duty, by making it a disciplinary offence for a participant to fail to report child protection and safeguarding concerns to the SGB.  

This article examines the mandatory reporting of child protection and safeguarding concerns in sport, and looks specifically at:

  • the pros and cons;
  • the main issue for SGBs to consider, including
    • to which individuals should the proposed duty attach?
    • what behaviour should be subject of a duty to report?
    • which individuals should be protected by the proposed duty?
    • whose behaviour should be subject of a duty to report?
    • what level of knowledge of abuse would trigger the proposed reporting duty?

While this article is written predominantly from a UK perspective, it is hoped that its content will also be useful and informative from a wider international perspective (including for international federations as well as national SGBs).

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Written by

Richard Bush

Richard Bush

I am an experienced and practically minded sports lawyer, working as a partner in our Media, Entertainment & Sports Group at Bird & Bird in London.

Having trained and qualified at a major city firm, I began my career as a sports lawyer in 2011, working as an in-house lawyer at The FA. In 2014 I went back into private practice with a highly respected boutique sports law firm, before joining the market-leading practice here at Bird & Bird in 2016.

As a consequence, I have experience of advising a wide range of sports organisations (including national and international governing bodies, event organisers, clubs, and rights-holders) across a wide variety of legal issues. I have developed a deep understanding of the wider practical challenges faced by such organisations.

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