child protection in sport

Child protection in sport

The potential for child abuse and the need for child protection are – or should be – major concerns for all organisations where adults are in regular contact with children. Far from being an exception to this rule, the sporting world is a high risk area, since sports clothing is often ‘minimal’ – showers and changing rooms are places where adults can mix with children, and children may be entrusted to the care of adults about whom the parents know very little.

So argues a leading article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, co-written by Dr M Turner, a medical adviser to the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) of Great Britain, which has been running a child protection programme since 1997.

‘Organisations need to have procedures in place to prevent paedophiles or other undesirable people becoming involved with officiating, coaching or supervising children,’ he argues, ‘and also have guidelines that enable young people to seek help and/or support on a confidential basis for any issue relating to child protection.

‘Child protection is not just about protecting children, it is also about ensuring coaches and officials are not the subject of unwarranted or malicious accusations.’

In the first five years of the LTA experience, 72 cases have raised ‘cause for concern’ and 10 custodial sentences have been recorded. Ninety per cent of the LTA cases involve coaches and the remainder club ‘officials’. In that time there has been only one recorded case of a false accusation.

Unfortunately, sporting organisations are often reluctant to acknowledge the possibility of child abuse and most have no mechanism to deal with complaints of abuse against staff or coaches.

Dr Turner urges all sports authorities to introduce comprehensive child protection arrangements, including codes of conduct for those working with children, club policy statements, child protection awareness training, guidelines on selection and recruitment of club coaches and officials and suggested selfdeclaration forms for people applying for such positions.

‘Medical staff involved in junior sports programmes should be vigilant at all times to the possibility of child abuse and make sure that the organisations for whom they work have appropriate documented mechanisms to investigate and process cases of child abuse brought to their attention.’

Br J Sports Med 2004;38:106-107

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