Child protection measures in Scottish football ‘not fit for purpose’, says new report

Child protection measures in Scottish football are “not fit for purpose”, according to a review into allegations of the sexual abuse of youngsters within the sport.

An independent report branded policies “inadequate” and called for a “significant and serious sea-change” in the culture of Scottish football to reduce the risk of abuse taking place.

The review panel, chaired by Martin Henry, criticised a “lack of leadership and inadequate governance” when it comes to child protection and said the sport in Scotland urgently needs a comprehensive safeguarding strategy.

Scottish Football Association (SFA) chief executive Ian Maxwell (pictured) apologised to people who had suffered abuse in the game.

The review said the findings should be considered a “line-in-the-sand” moment for football north of the border and issued nearly 100 recommendations for change.

The interim report stated: “The time for such change is overdue.”

The SFA commissioned the review at the end of 2016 following an “unprecedented” number of allegations of non-recent sexual abuse in the sport, mainly said to have occurred in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

The review talked to 236 individuals. Some 22 people came forward with allegations of historical sexual abuse concerning 10 alleged abusers.

Allegations ranged from sexualised language and indecent assault to rape, the report noted.

The report found some progress has been made in relation to child protection issues in recent years but highlighted a number of areas for improvement.

Its summary called for the SFA to improve its capacity to respond to allegations of non-recent sexual abuse and added: “The current structure of the Scottish FA and Scottish football is not fit for purpose in relation to the safeguarding of young people, clarity of accountability and the reduction of risk.

“An over-complex structure, lack of leadership and inadequate governance in relation to ‘child protection’ has also contributed to risk and general ineffectiveness…

“Scottish football urgently requires a comprehensive safeguarding strategy which involves the entire game beyond the governing body alone.”

It spoke of a perception that the sport, played by almost 100,000 young people in Scotland, is dominated by “men in blazers”.

It also noted “with serious concern” the role that homophobic attitudes and banter within the sport have played in “silencing” young men who may have experienced abuse and it criticised situations where footballers have been stigmatised because of mental ill-health.

“Culture change within football in Scotland is imperative,” the review stated.

“This includes challenging negative and harmful attitudes to mental health and distorted thinking about sexual conduct and gender based violence; changing the widely held perception of ‘men in blazers’ controlling the delivery of the sport in Scotland; effectively and decisively challenging homophobic attitudes and behaviours which seriously reinforce the fears and silence of young men when faced with sexual abuse or exploitation.”

The document is an interim report, with the final report being withheld until all relevant criminal proceedings are concluded.

It has however, completed its findings and made 96 recommendations, with all but one issued on Thursday.

They cover a range of fields, including governance, leadership, structure, investment and policies and procedures within the sport.

Recommendations include that all arrangements for team trips should be properly risk-assessed and a full review of all roles in football is undertaken.

Contributors to the review told how they believe football-related sexual abuse had contributed to the deaths of some people through either suicide or substance abuse.

The report stated: “It is an outcome that is absolutely unacceptable and we owe it to these people, and all those affected, to ensure that the price they have paid is not in vain.”

Mr Henry said later: “The publication of our interim report should be considered a ‘line-in-the-sand’ moment for Scottish football. It is an opportunity to send an uncompromising and unequivocal message that there can be no place and must be no place for sexual abuse in our national game.

“Public confidence can only be restored when consistent leadership and clear accountability are demonstrated by and within Scottish football.”

The SFA said its board has sanctioned the appointment of a manager to implement the recommendations, and a safeguarding advisory group is to be set up.

Mr Maxwell, who was appointed as chief executive in April, said: “On behalf of Scottish football I would like to offer my most heartfelt apology to those with personal experience of sexual abuse in our national game.

“We acknowledge the very deep impact experiences of sexual abuse has had on many individuals and that is why we are strongly committed to learning from these experiences.

“We are pleased that the report has recognised the progress that the Scottish FA and its members have made since the board issued a directive in 2016, however, we recognise there is still much to do…

“As a former club chief executive, coach and player I understand the steps taken in recent years to improve the area of child wellbeing and protection.

“Above all, I am a father and my commitment is to ensure that the Scottish FA – with the support of its member clubs, organisations and partners – implement the necessary recommendations to ensure that Scottish football is a safe and enjoyable environment for all.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.