The absolute necessity of ensuring the protection of children (those under 18) and vulnerable adults who participate in sport is obvious. Children have an absolute right to this, particularly under the Children Act 1989. Any failure could affect the whole future and integrity of a sport, and potentially lead to a ruinous award of damages against the sports organisation involved. Despite this, few organisations could confidently assert that they could do no more to manage this risk. Whilst the primary focus is on sex abuse, other protection issues can include - at the elite level – training or competing whilst injured, overtraining or doping.
It is not enough merely to have a safeguarding policy. It must be fit for the purpose, and fully implemented in practice. There must be training, criminal record checks where necessary, and regular reviews of the arrangements. Procedures are also required to ensure that swift, effective and proportionate action is taken when a concern is identified.
It is often prudent to involve an independent assessor. A disciplinary process may be required, particularly where an employee is involved, and suspension may well be appropriate pending it. Permanent exclusion should be amongst possible sanctions. Decisions must be made in respect of when and how to inform the police and other agencies. The power to take these steps must be incorporated in the organisation’s constitutional rules.