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International Safeguards for Children in Sport

Millions of children and young people take part in sporting activities every day across the world. For some children this is purely for recreation and fun. Others may participate in sport for development programmes. For some young people sport may be their chosen future career, either as talented athletes, as coaches or as officials. Sport may also be used as a vehicle for diverting young people from anti-social or criminal behaviour. Children have the right to participate in sport in a safe and enjoyable environment. Their rights are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Over the past 15 years or so victims of all forms of violence in sport have started to be able to have their voices heard and responded to. Previously there has been little questioning of the perception that sport is only a force for good for young people. Until the late 1990s/early 2000s very few sports organisations had put in place systems and structures to respond to complaints about the behaviour of adults or other young people. We now know enough from research and evidence to be clear that sport does not always take place with a focus on children’s rights at its centre, or sometimes fails to fully consider the risks to children, leading to organisational cultures that don’t allow for the discussion of harm and abuse (Brackenridge, Kay & Rhind, 2012).

There are also some risks to children and young people which are unique to sport such as the increased risks of all forms of abuse to elite young athletes. Many sport for development programmes are provided to extremely vulnerable children who may be affected by violence and abuse in their daily lives and for whom sport should be a safe haven. We should all seek to ensure that sports provision to these young people takes place in safe environments.

A draft set of Standards (now called Safeguards) were developed by a partnership of organisations working together for the Beyond Sport Summit in London, 2012. These were further developed through an extensive piloting phase over the next 2 years. The finalised version of the Safeguards was launched at Beyond Sport in October 2014. They lay the foundations for a holistic approach to ensuring children’s safety and protection in all sports contexts internationally.