Friday 27 October 2023, 08:00

First group graduate from two-year FIFA Guardians Safeguarding in Sport Diploma at FIFA Summit

  • First-ever FIFA Safeguarding Summit took place at the Home of FIFA on 25-26 October 2023

  • More than 100 FIFA Learners from 70 Member Associations graduated from the FIFA Safeguarding in Sport Diploma, including FIFA Council Member Johanna Wood

  • Summit brought together a wide group of football stakeholders in the world of safe sport

As part of FIFA’s commitment to raising safeguarding standards in football through the FIFA Guardians programme, the Safeguarding Summit held at the Home of FIFA on 25 and 26 October had a dual objective. The first was a graduation ceremony for more than one hundred FIFA Learners from 70 Member Associations, six regional associations and two confederations who have successfully completed the FIFA Guardians Safeguarding in Sport Diploma. Graduates included FIFA Council Member and President of New Zealand Football, Johanna Wood who in a short speech emphasized how this cohort must continue to provide each other with invaluable support moving forward, as well supporting members of their respective football communities.

The second objective of the Summit was to share Safeguarding best practices and lessons learned. Safeguarding officers from a wide spectrum of FIFA member associations (MAs), confederations, global experts and representatives of various stakeholders in the world of safe sport - including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Council of Europe, and Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR), FIFPRO and the Army of Survivors - sat alongside former international footballers and FIFA Head of Refereeing (Women), Kari Seitz across a myriad of panel discussions and presentations. FIFA President Gianni Infantino opened proceedings by delivering a video message to a full auditorium.

Three survivors of abuse in sport - former footballer Dion Raitt, former rugby player Sébastien Boueilh, and former tennis player Mathilde Grenet - powerfully opened the panel discussions. Each spoke of their personal experiences and shared invaluable advice with the FIFA Learners in their current capacities working in safe sport. Boueilh cited how calls to a French hotline for children increased by 20% after TF1 had broadcast a film based on his personal story. He reminded the graduates of the trauma they may experience if they are approached by victims and implored them to consider their own wellness. Grenet meanwhile encouraged the graduates to ensure their federation leaderships fully buy into the concept of safeguarding, encouraging open conversations and a commitment to dealing with cases with confidentiality, empathy and impartiality. “If not, as in the case of US Gymnastics and Larry Nassar, it will come back to haunt you” she said. Former Arsenal and England Women’s international Kelly Smith was another candid participant. Her own stellar career featured a battle with alcohol whilst in America after sustaining two long-term injuries in 2002 and 2003. Back then, there was no network of support. In 2016 when she hung up her boots, her club in England didn’t have a safeguarding officer either. Smith is now coaching in North London and proudly shared how the number of staff supporting the welfare of players has increased considerably, a sign she believes demonstrates a growing understanding and importance placed within the industry on supporting players at both senior, and academy level.

Marie-Laure Lemineur, FIFA Head of Safeguarding & Child Protection brought the two days to a conclusion, reminding the participants that systemic change will not happen overnight. “Safeguarding is a marathon, it's not a sprint” she said succinctly. “I'm convinced that FIFA has triggered awareness that football development is not only about football skills, but also includes a duty of care to protect those who are made vulnerable through their football activities.” With over 7,000 individuals having enrolled on the FIFA Guardians Essentials Level 1 course, and future plans to expand the Diploma’s availability into Arabic, as well as English, French and Spanish, Lemineur has observed an ever-growing interest and demand to embrace the core tenets of Safeguarding.

“The mandate of the department is to protect everyone, in all roles in the game. It can be a volunteer at a [FIFA Men’s or Women’s] World Cup who is bullied, or it could be a female referee who is sexually harassed. It can be anyone. Having said that, research shows that certain groups are made the target of harmful behaviour and of sexual violence more often than others. “These are children – boys and girls – women, members of the LGBT community, athletes with disabilities and, of course, aspiring elite athletes; those who have an ambition to make it to the top.”

As the participants make their way home to all corners of the globe from Zurich this evening, they will do so armed with a wealth of information, food for thought, and without question, a host of new connections and contacts made. The final words go to Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran, Executive Director of The Army of Survivors who moderated a panel discussion on the opening day. “It’s a privilege and honour, from my point of view to be a change-maker and to be an advocate for those who might not otherwise have a voice. To engage in safeguarding at all levels of a sports organisation is a way to say: I honour you. I believe you, and i’m here for you. “What we often hear from survivors when they do disclose for the first time, is that person saying: I believe you. It was not your fault. Those are the messages that if you were to get involved in Safeguarding with FIFA, as well as organisations like ours, you would hear. It’s truly an opportunity to change the future of sport, that will then focus and centre [on] athletes and their well-being.”

Did you know?

Developed by FIFA and The Open University (OU) together with global safeguarding experts, practitioners and academics in the field, the FIFA Guardians Safeguarding in Sport Diploma is an open learning experience launched in January 2021. The programme consists of five online courses primarily aimed at safeguarding officers at FIFA’s 211 member associations (“FIFA learners”). FIFA learners have access to dedicated webinars, moderated forums, interactive workshops and assessments that guide the learner through practical steps and examples of safeguarding best practice in sport. The FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2022™ saw the introduction and successful implementation of the first-ever comprehensive event-safeguarding programme at a FIFA youth tournament. Concrete and expert-supported measures were put in place to ensure the protection and well-being of players and adults, both participating and attending the event, in line with FIFA’s commitment to embed safeguarding measures across the game. In a further example of Safeguarding being embedded across FIFA tournaments and events, in October 2022, twelve young Indians made history as safeguarding volunteers at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2022™, the first time a FIFA youth tournament had engaged people in this role to support the on-site Safeguarding competition team. The preparation of these safeguarding volunteers involved them completing Course 1 of the FIFA Guardians Safeguarding in Sport Diploma.

Safeguarding principles

In line with the terms and spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the safeguarding of children in football is based around the following five principles:

Principle 1

We will act in the best interests of children. Ensuring that children are safeguarded is part of a commitment to enhancing their enjoyment and performance in football.

Principle 2

Children’s rights will be respected and promoted throughout the game of football.

Principle 3

The principles and practices in the toolkit will be applied to all children, with no discrimination of any kind.

Principle 4

Safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of the country we are from or the role we hold in football.

Principle 5

Specific roles and responsibilities must be defined within Member Associations (MAs) and all concerns will be reported and dealt with appropriately.