It has been reported this week that the president of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) Martin Corrie has stepped down on a temporary basis following a complaint into how an allegation of sexual assault by a coach was investigated.
The initial allegation was made back in 2004, when Mr Corrie was at the time a member of the Hertfordshire executive committee where the alleged assault took place.
The LTA has said a new complaint was made to it in December about the way in which the allegation was handled, leading to a ‘comprehensive internal review of the original 2004 case’ and ‘a further independent investigation’ being launched.
This comes shortly after the LTA apologised last year after the conviction of Daniel Sanders, head coach at Wrexham Tennis Centre, for sexual abuse of a young player.
The LTA acknowledged that its safeguarding failed in this case, as Sanders was left in his role despite warnings and complaints.
Sports under increasing scrutiny over their safeguarding of children and vulnerable people
Safeguarding in sport is now a focus for increasing media scrutiny and there have been many concerning allegations coming out of the world of professional football in particular.
Sports clubs and organisations normally have safeguarding policies in place, and whilst the law does not actually mandate that such organisations have policies, they are required to make checks on people working with children under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Group Act 2006.
There is Government guidance in “Working together to Safeguard Children 2015”, which although primarily designed for statutory agencies such as social workers, also covers the voluntary and community sector who have contact with children and families.
This guidance was updated in February 2017 and a new version coming out in April 2018.
Sample safeguarding policies are also published by organisations such as Barnardo’s and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Safeguarding concerns call for ‘immediate referral’ – not ‘in-house’ investigations
The Evening Standard reported on the March 5, 2018, that 26 out of 179 aid organisations had told the Government that they had identified “safeguarding” cases since mid-February.
Most safeguarding policies work on the basis that when an allegation of abuse is made, the organisation then has to decide whether to report the allegation to the police and social services.
The policies I have seen generally emphasise the importance of immediate referral (save in cases where it turns out that there is in fact no allegation being made, or the allegation is not about abuse).
The policies also warn against an organisation trying to investigate the veracity of the allegation itself and then deal with it “in-house”.
Sometimes the provisions of a safeguarding policy are simply not followed through, but regrettably there is a temptation in some organisations either to brush the matter under the carpet or to try and investigate internally and then conclude that in fact, nothing has happened.
This is the easy way out, particularly where there is a risk of ‘reputational damage’, but is certainly not the right way, and one which could leave children and vulnerable people at risk.