Today, Monday 3 October, the NSPCC has launched Keeping Your Child Safe in Sport Week. Alastair Gillespie and David Milton examine the principal elements of the NSPCC’s latest campaign.

The NSPCC continues to promote and drive change in legislation and practice relating to the protection of children in all aspects of their lives. Regular readers of our blog will recall Sarah Murray-Smith’s recent article concerning the NSPCC’s successful ‘Closing the Loophole’ campaign, which resulted in the expansion of the categories of positions of trust that are covered by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (in England and Wales) and the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 to include sports coaches and faith group leaders. The amended law came into force in August 2022. Until that change came into force it had not been illegal for people in those sporting and faith group roles to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year-old in their care. That statutory loophole has now been closed.

This week, 3-9 October 2022, the NSPCC is driving a new initiative that is focussed on the protection of children in all sporting activities – ‘Keeping Your Child Safe in Sport’. The purpose of the campaign is to promote an extensive range of advice and support for parents in keeping children safe in sports clubs, groups and activities.

The campaign is backed by prominent sporting individuals who were victims of abuse when they were children engaged in sporting activity. Five-time Olympic champion Sir Bradley Wiggins revealed in April that he was groomed by a coach as a child. Former England footballer Paul Stewart was sexually abused by a football coach. Both have spoken out in support of the campaign. Various governing bodies, including the English and Scottish Football Associations, are also taking part in events intended to raise awareness.

Although there is a general consensus that child protection and safeguarding policy and practice have improved out of all recognition since the 1970s, the statistics underpinning the rationale for the NSPCC’s initiative make for troubling reading. In particular:

  • The number of calls from adults to the NSPCC's helpline which involved child protection concerns in a sport-related setting have almost doubled in the last 5 years, from 155 to 301.
  • Worryingly, a poll of 1,000 parents revealed that 15% of respondents did not feel confident they could identify the signs of their child suffering abuse at their local sports club.

The detailed guidance that the NSPCC is disseminating should be essential reading for all parents with children engaging in any type of sporting activity. The guidance sets out 8 key aspects of any organised sporting activity, all of which a parent should consider when consenting to a child’s participation. Those aspects include the safety of the environment, evidence of safeguarding training and access to a welfare or child protection officer.

If you would like to read more about this initiative, the NSPCC’s landing page can be accessed here Keeping Your Child Safe in Sport | NSPCC.

The NSPCC is in the second year of an extensive 10-year strategy (Ten-year strategy 2021-31 | NSPCC) through which it will pursue three impact goals:

  • Everyone plays their part to prevent child abuse;  
  • Every child is safe online
  • Children feel safe, listened to and supported.

The overall aim of the strategy is to cause significant and necessary change for the benefit of children. We can expect a great deal more activity from the NSPCC in the months and years ahead.