A Time for Credible rather than Comfortable Choices
The headline that Chelsea Football Club has been cleared of breaking any Premiership rules whist technically true is potentially misleading; the devil, as always is in the detail. An informed examination reveals what the headline should have been; Until recently the Premiership’s rules for safeguarding children were simply not fit for purpose.
Whilst the loophole about reporting an allegation to them has been closed, in my opinion this loophole reflected a culture which lacked a firm child centred focus. It revealed an apparent willingness by some to hide behind the fact that whilst failing to report and escalate concerns was wrong, it wasn’t actually against the rules.
As everyone in football begins to reflect on the harm done and react to the lessons learned many will go through the motions of ticking boxes and making grand statements about their commitment to keep young players safe. They will check, on paper at least, that everything is as it should be. However, it is people and their behaviour that hurts children. It is people and their behaviour not paper exercises that really counts when it comes to safeguarding the young and vulnerable.
Vetting only weeds out those already captured. The predators who infiltrate the game, those who’ve never been caught, they get the training, they have the power and influence and they often use it to abuse whilst they hide in plain sight. Whatever individual clubs and organisations do next, it must be contemporary, credible and relevant.
Safeguarding needs to be contextual. The good the bad and the ugly aspects of children and young people’s lives will invariably be reflected in their social media footprint; the online spaces, the public and private places they frequent. Given what we’ve learned about players’ online engagement with young fans and the fact that today’s digital world offers the predator a new means to communicate, influence and control their victims, then no review will be contemporary, credible or relevant if social media and its use is not at its core.
Successful Safeguarding is a Shared Responsibility
Clubs must engage staff, parents, carers and young players themselves. The conversation will never be as relevant as it is right now! It is real, it is on the news, in the daily papers and all over social media. So this is the time to ensure that everyone knows what to look for and what to do if they’ve seen it or heard it or if something just doesn’t feel right. Trust your instinct. The only person who will feel really uncomfortable whilst this conversation takes place is the predator within.
A Game of Two Halves
Auditing policy and compliance may be a credible start and can be compared to your defensive framework. But, to turn your defence into attack it is essential to have the programme and tools that ‘educate and empower’ all those who share the responsibility of safeguarding the young people in our care.
A Word to the Associations.
The flow of young people into this sport we love so well is essential to its future success at both professional and amateur levels. Isn’t it about time we treated our most valuable asset with the importance it deserves.
Ensuring and assessing compliance cannot be a box ticking exercise; it must be treated with the same dynamic, relentlessness and unpredictable approach as drug testing in the best sports. Independent safeguarding teams turning up at a club unannounced and asking tough questions that test the effectiveness of policy and training. Seeking out parents, carers to check that they know what to do and who to speak to. Asking young players themselves if they know how to report when something inappropriate happens. These are the tactics that will deliver the results we need.
Now is the time to make credible rather than comfortable choices. When the FA, Premier League and clubs carry out independent safeguarding reviews in future they must begin by using the right people, individuals with absolute independence and a credible safeguarding background. In my experience the right people, in the right roles are those who will always do the right thing, even when the rules suggest they could do otherwise.
Jim Gamble QPM was the founding Chief Executive of CEOP and is currently CEO of the INEQE Group of Specialist Safeguarding Companies and the Independent Chair of the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board (the first and only Board ever to be Judged outstanding by Ofsted)