Every day children around the world take part in sport; the activities may be social or competitive, may take place in schools, clubs, organisations or in the streets. An enormous number of staff, parents and volunteers support, train and encourage participants of all levels. Looking at the multitude of settings and stakeholders, the field becomes large and diverse. For effective programme implementation, safeguarding procedures need to be adapted to the setting and target group.

Sport and development is not just about the games; often sport is used as a ‘hook’ to engage target populations in programmes that work towards development goals such as conflict resolution, gender equity, education and health. Sport and development practitioners, want to continue to use sport as a tool to reach the predefined set of development objectives.

To do this, both participants and donors need to be attracted. Having effective safeguarding measures is essential to retaining the participation and enthusiasm of participants and donors as key stakeholders to the sportive activities.

Safeguarding in sport has been neglected across the globe until recently. Things are beginning to change and there are efforts to ensure that everyone, including the sport and development community, is involved.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Adopted by the International Save the Children Union in 1923, the World Child Welfare Charter was the first in a series of documents focused on the rights of the child and endorsed by the League of Nations in 1924. In 1959 this document was expanded to the ten principles of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly.

In 1989 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which focuses on four key principles outlined in 54 articles which became international law.

  • Article 19 states that everyone has the responsibility to protect all children from all forms of harm, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • Article 31 expresses every child’s right to participate in play and recreational activities

Global change

In the United Kingdom, serious efforts to tackle child safeguarding in sport began in 2001 with the formation of the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit following a series of high profile cases including that of a British Olympic swimming coach who was convicted of two rapes and a series of assaults.

In 2008, AusAID became the first bilateral donor and first Commonwealth agency to implement a Child Protection Policy. While this policy has been through a number of shifts, it does ensure that the organisations it funds are implementing practices, policies and procedures to ensure that children are kept safe.

Funding from AusAID has been linked to this policy and organisations have had funding suspended for not taking action. AusAID is working with other funding bodies to develop similar policies.

Some grant-making and award bodies, have asked applicants to commit to strengthening child protection practices; with organisations who apply for grants or awards being obliged to develop a child protection policy. 

Although many more organisations have developed child protection policies as a result of the incentive, the practice has met with limited success. Often, the policies developed are on paper only and have not been effectively communicated throughout organisations as a result of limited support, knowledge and capacity.

In 2012 UNICEF took the lead in an on-going discussion with more than 30 leaders and thinkers on the topic of child safeguarding. As an outcome, a set of international standards for safeguarding children in sport were introduced and a working group formed. These standards are being piloted globally to verify their feasibility and relevance.

Standards for safeguarding children in sport

At present there are eleven draft standards guiding sport and sport & development organisations to endorse safeguarding and child protection procedures. They are still considered draft standards because they are currently being piloted by 50 organisations, governments, funding bodies, professional sports teams and local clubs through to grassroots sport and development organisations.

These eleven standards should not be seen as an end point, but rather a benchmark of good practice.

  • Write a policy on keeping children safe
  • Use procedures, personnel and systems that support safeguarding
  • Assess and minimise risks to children
  • Produce guidelines on behaviour towards children
  • Ensure equity – ALL children being safeguarded
  • Communicate the ‘keep children safe’ message
  • Provide education and training for keeping children safe
  • Engage with advice and support
  • Work with partners to meet the standards
  • Involve children in development, review and implementation of the standards
  • Monitor and evaluate compliance and effectiveness of the proposed safeguarding measures

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