Duty of Care in Sport

Key recommendations from an independent report looking into the duty of care that sports have towards their participants

Boy playing basketballThe Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson's independent report into the Duty of Care that sports have towards their participants.

The report’s recommendations are made in 7 key themes including: safeguarding, education; transition; representation of the participant’s’ voice; equality diversity and inclusion; mental welfare; safety injury and medical issues.

This briefing focusses on recommendations for the safeguarding theme but also highlights selected recommendations for the other themes where they have relevance to children and young people and the priority recommendations to government.

Background to the report

In December 2015 the Department for Culture Media and Sport published ‘Sporting future - a new strategy for an active nation (PDF)’ which sought to redefine what success in sport means, placing a new focus on 5 key outcomes: physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development and economic development.

Included in the strategy was the commitment to introduce a new ‘Duty of Care’ for all athletes and participants, setting out how participants at every level will be looked after and protected. The football abuse scandal in 2016 further highlighted the need to ensure that children have the best possible protection when they are taking part in sport at all levels.

A public consultation in April and May 2016, an independent working group and focus groups have all informed the independent Duty of Care review of welfare and safety in sport led by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. The final report Duty of care in sport: independent report to government (PDF) presents recommendations based on this process.

Key findings

This area of the review looked at what more could be done to strengthen sport’s position in relation to the protection of young people and adults at all levels of sport. The review looked at elite, professional and community sport. We have summarised the main findings below.

  • It is essential that government clarifies departmental responsibilities and arrangements for safeguarding where policy or programmes are cross-departmental.
  • Sports should collect data about safeguarding issues in a standardised way. The systems would allow the appropriate body to track the incident formally and investigate fully. It would also allow trend analysis to be carried out which could highlight hot spots for children and adults. The collation of data should be ongoing and would allow sharing of information between sports.
  • Government should review the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to include sports coaches within the definition of “Positions of Trust”, in order to provide additional safeguards for 16 and 17 year olds. At the moment, teachers fall within this definition, which places restrictions on the relationship they can have with people under 18 years of age under their tutelage. Sports coaches should be subject to these same restrictions. Find out more about our Trust to Lead campaign calling on government to amend legislation to better protect children from abuse by a trusted adult.
  • Government to consider introducing a Duty to Report in all sports organisations. This would mean that if a person knows, or has suspicion of, any abuse taking place, they must report it to the relevant body for action to be taken.
  • Government to ensure that a prevalence study, looking at the rates of abuse of children and adults in sport, is conducted to gather up to date information.
  • The NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) should be provided with the appropriate resources to work with sports (both funded and non-funded) to provide clear guidance on safeguarding processes and responsibilities and help make those processes as effective as possible. The CPSU’s role should be highlighted to the wider public.
  • Government to review the process of background checks for self-employed providers and those not falling under a recognised National Governing Body (NGB), including how parents or participants could access relevant information about these checks. To assist with this, a national coach licensing scheme should be considered, with the creation of a register of licensed coaches. Parents who employ private sports coaches for their children should be encouraged to make appropriate background checks.
  • All private providers, independent and state schools should have safeguarding policies in place and they should be publicly available.
  • Where talent pathway sports remove young people from the club structure (where safeguarding officers exist), signposting to safeguarding processes must be included in the induction progress.
  • A national coach licensing scheme should be considered, with the creation of a register of licensed coaches.
  • Government should clarify whether “appropriate and necessary robust pre-employment checks” for sports venue employers refers only to employees who work in “regulated activity” and whether lifeguarding is classed as “regulated activity”.
  • All organisations should have their safeguarding policy clearly available on their website and in other materials, and clearly lay out the steps to be taken to make a complaint.
  • Consideration should be given to an independent “adults at risk” unit with a similar mandate to the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit.
  • Further work is required on how to provide information about doping within sport for young athletes.
  • Government and sports organisations to consider how to better recognise the role of sports volunteers.

In this theme the review looked at how young sportspeople can be supported to help them balance education with their sporting activities.

  • Information should be made available to schools to help them support talented young athletes who are trying to balance education and being on a talent pathway.

In this theme, the review looked at top-level and elite sport, and the support people receive as they transition through the system. The review focussed on the two main aspects of this journey – entering and leaving top-level sport.

  • Further work in this area is required, particularly around young people transitioning into the 18-25 year age group and for disabled participants, who tend to be more at risk.

Representation of the participant’s voice
This area of the review looked at how the views of sportspeople are considered in decisions affecting them in sport.

  • All sports’ boards should have a guardian responsible for Duty of Care.
  • All sports organisations should consider the participant’s voice within their work and have an independent process, very clearly and publicly available, for consultation and whistleblowing.

Equality, diversity and inclusion
This area of the review considered any specific aspects of Duty of Care with relevance to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I). This is a significant area of concern within the world of sport and it is important to ensure diversity of participation in sport from across society.

  • Sporting organisations, schools and club teams should adopt zero tolerance for athletes, parents, fans, coaches and support staff who engage in discriminatory language and behaviour.
  • Coaches, PE teachers and officials in direct contact with athletes should undergo mandatory training to enable them to best support athletes from different backgrounds, protected categories, personalities and cognitive abilities.

Mental welfare
In this area of the review, issues relating to the prevention, identification and management of mental health issues in sportspeople were considered.

  • Introduce sector standard mental health training for coaches and physical activity professionals.

Safety, injury and medical issues
The review considered how the likelihood of injury can be lessened and whether improvements can be made to how sporting injuries are treated in the short and long term. The review also considered underlying medical conditions that may be caused or exacerbated by sport.

  • Develop a standard first aid course specifically for sport.

The report highlighted the following priority recommendations:

  • the government should create a Sports Ombudsman (or Sports Duty of Care Quality Commission)
  • the government should measure Duty of Care via an independent benchmark survey giving equal voice to all stakeholders in the system
  • all NGB boards should have a named Duty of Care Guardian
  • an induction process should be carried out for all participants entering elite levels of sport (and, where relevant, their families should also be included)
  • as participants leave formal programmes an independent exit interview should be conducted, the results of which would be taken account of in future funding discussions
  • a Duty of Care Charter should be established by government. As part of this, participants who receive funding (in any part of the system) should be offered honorary contracts
  • government should independently fund the British Athletes Commission.

Read the full report

Grey-Thompson, Baroness Tanni (2017) Duty of care in sport: independent report to government (PDF). London: Department for Culture, Media and Sport.