Monday 30 October 2023, 16:45

"Together, we can shift the needle on the status of safeguarding in sport"

As part of FIFA’s commitment to raising safeguarding standards in football through the FIFA Guardians programme, a Safeguarding Summit was held at the Home of FIFA on 25 and 26 October. 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 sat across a myriad of panel discussions and presentations. We spoke to some of the participants to hear their views on the importance of safeguarding.

Dion Raitt speaks during the FIFA Safeguarding Summit at the Home of FIFA

Dion Raitt – Former Peterborough United youth team player, and survivor of abuse.

Why do you feel that safeguarding is so important for the role of a coach?

Safeguarding is paramount as a sports coach. You are a role model to these children, not only in the way that you conduct yourself. They’re going to learn to trust you over time, so you need to be fully aware; you need to be eyes open, so that you can see any changes in behaviour. You need to create opportunities that allow them to project their voice…to give them an opportunity. There may be something going on at home that you might not see but you might sense that there’s something wrong. Having the knowledge to be able to create opportunities for an open conversation might just be key in early intervention, in ensuring they disclose at the right time, which could minimise the impact long-term. You also, through the safeguarding training, would learn what to do with this information, where to take it to, who to report it to, who not to report it to at times to keep that child safe. I just think it’s got to be top of the agenda for a coach.

Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran of The Army of Survivors speaks during the FIFA Safeguarding Summit

Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran – The Army of Survivors

Is sport a particularly vulnerable area for abuse, and why do you think that is? Athletes have a higher rate of vulnerability for the risk of sexual assault and abuse in sport in general, for various reasons – children and adults. One of the primary reasons for that is the isolating schedules that lots of child athletes have, especially if they’re on a track into becoming an elite athlete long term or professional athlete. They are oftentimes separated from their families and loved ones, either at a camp, club or gym, where they learn what they can about their sport, but also don’t have the familial connection for a family member to maybe recognise some of the signs that start to pop up of someone who has been abused. So, if this coach who had built trust with you, believed in you as a child, and now, you are working with him more closely and then starts to abuse you – what do you do? It’s hard to be able to disclose that it’s happening or even understand – especially for children – that what is happening is actually abuse, and they’ve built this relationship with this person that has the same goals and dreams for their athletic career, and now, they are doing something to harm them.

Kelly Smith speaks during the FIFA Safeguarding Summit

Kelly Smith – Arsenal Women Assistant Coach

What safeguarding measures do your club have in place to support players? When I was playing, up until 2016, we had no safeguarding, no-one to protect the players, no policies, no procedures in place. I'm now back at the club, and to see the way that the club has embraced safeguarding, they’re very proud that they’ve got all these protocols and policies in place now. They’ve hired three full-time safeguarding officers. One oversees it all, one oversees the boy’s academy and the community, and there is a specific person for the women’s team too. There are also four members within the Arsenal staff that have been upskilled and trained: designated people to work on safeguarding issues. If players have an issue, they’ve got a number of people that they can go to. I think it’s really important to have people with those qualifications and that understanding in safeguarding, for those players to feel comfortable to reach out.

FIFA Council Member & New Zealand Football President Johanna Wood, Michael Llamas, Gibraltar FA President & FIFA Human Rights & Social Responsibility Sub-Committee Chair, Irena Guidikova, Head of Children's Rights & Sport Values Dept, Council of Europe

Johanna Wood – New Zealand Football President and FIFA Council Member

How important is it for those in leadership positions like yourself, to take courses like this? My background is in education, and I’m very aware that we have to lead by example. We have to be role models. So, if we aren’t open to learning ourselves, prepared to take on new learning journeys – in this case the FIFA guardianship – then why would others do it? By role modelling, it gives others the confidence that we have some understanding of what they are doing on our behalf. And we can then become, maybe, a mentor for them to support them and their work. I think it’s very important for leaders to not just talk the talk - but walk the walk as well.

Kirsty Burrows, Head of Safe Sport Unit, IOC during the FIFA Safeguarding Summit

Kirsty Burrows – International Olympic Committee (IOC) Head of Safe Sport

Do other international sporting federations need to employ something similar to the IOC and FIFA’s safeguarding programmes? I think what we’re seeing is an evolution in safeguarding in sport as a field. It’s essential we have trained, safeguarding focal points and trained, safeguarding officers, as well as education for all stakeholders: for coaches, and for the administration. Then we need to work on clarifying the different roles of education, and different skill sets that people have. It’s fantastic that FIFA has this Guardians programme. We have the IOC certificates, safeguarding officers in sport, and we’re working to ensure that there’s a real clarity and understanding as to what that means, and how the graduates of these programmes can really be helpful in helping sports organisations, helping athletes, improving safeguarding systems, strategies, policies, across the world of sport. Together, we can help really move this forward and shift the needle on the status of safeguarding in sport.

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.