Scottish Football Association ‘asleep on the job’ and ‘complacent’ over protecting children from abuse
A Scottish Parliament committee report into child protection in football has criticised the SFA heavily for failing to do enough to protect children
Health and Sport Committee chair Neil Findlay - Image credit: Scottish Parliament TV
A Scottish Parliament committee has accused the Scottish Football Association (SFA) of being “asleep on the job” and “complacent” over protecting children from abuse.
The parliament’s Health and Sport Committee launched an inquiry into child protection in sport after allegations emerged of young players having been abused by coaches following former footballer waiving his anonymity in relation to sexual abuse he suffered as a junior player.
In its concluding report the committee raises concerns about a backlog of checks waiting to be carried out by the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA), and affiliate of the SFA, on coaches and other officials working with young players.
The report notes that the figures given by the SYFA on the level of backlog were inconsistent in evidence submitted to the committee.
While the SYFA is a separate organisation from the SFA, the committee concludes that the SFA is ultimately responsible for ensuring adequate procedures are in place.
The report says: “A soft touch approach may have been previously warranted, however it is clear from the evidence we have received this is no longer applicable.
“The SFA have, whatever they claim, responsibilities.
“The current approach is simply not working effectively to protect children and young people in football and in our view the ultimate responsibility for this lies with the SFA as the governing body.”
It recommends that the ‘minimum operating requirements’ that sports governing bodies are required to meet in relation to child protection are strengthened and that future grants from SportScotland “be conditional on adequate procedures not only being in place but being timeously adhered to”.
The report also notes concerns raised by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner about a “power imbalance” in the relationship between children and football agents acting on their behalf.
Agents are not covered by the need for child protection checks, an “anomaly” the committee says must be “rectified immediately” by the Scottish Government.
The committee also said there is a “compelling case” for the current Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme be made mandatory for sports organisations in Scotland.
Currently voluntary, the PVG scheme has been in place since 2011 and is managed by Disclosure Scotland.
It is a registration system for all those who work, either paid or unpaid, with children and protected adults to confirm there is no known reason why they should not work with these vulnerable groups.
The report notes that the Scottish Government plans to have new legislation in place by 2019, but the committee calls for action to be taken now to strengthen the PVG scheme and to ensure “unsuitable people” are prevented from working with vulnerable adults and children.
Convener of the Health and Sport Committee Neil Findlay said: “Our evidence highlighted variations in how the PVG scheme operates in sports across Scotland.
“Ultimately, we believe the current system of PVG checks may not be preventing unsuitable people from doing regulated work with children.
“We’re talking about the safety of children – urgent action is needed now to strengthen the scheme as 2019 is too long to wait for new legislation.
“In relation to football, we have raised serious concerns about the ability of the SYFA to ensure PVG checks are carried out efficiently.
“We cannot even now be confident that the SYFA is being truthful in relation to the size of their backlog and consequently that as an organisation they are committed to undertaking the appropriate PVG checking expeditiously.
“We consider the SFA to have been asleep on the job and continuingly complacent in this area.
“Based on the information provided, we are left with concerns about the current protections being afforded to youth footballers in Scotland.”
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