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Scots 'soft on child abuse in sport'

Scotland is dragging its heels behind the rest of the United Kingdom in the fight against child abuse in sport, a leading academic has claimed.

Celia Brackenridge, professor of sport and leisure at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, is concerned about the use of sport for access to children.

Having submitted a four-page report to the Cullen Inquiry in the aftermath of the Dunblane atrocity, she made a presentation to sports governing bodies in England on child abuse in sport in the summer.

Professor Brackenridge claims she offered her services to the Scottish Sports Council (SSC) earlier this year, only to be turned down.

Since then, she has been approached by the Sports Council in England, the Northern Ireland Sports Council and the Welsh Sports Council to lecture on the subject but the SSC has still not invited her to talk to governing bodies.

However, the SSC's Scottish Coaching Unit, which has close links with the National Coaching Foundation (NCF) in England, is now addressing the whole issue.

"It's a huge issue, particularly after Dunblane. We need to get together with governing bodies and local authorities and look at setting up regional workshops," said Liz Scoular, coaching development officer with the unit.

Professor Brackenridge is concerned that the media attention after the Cullen Inquiry focused on the gun issue and not on child protection in sport.

She has been lobbying the Sports Council in England and the NCF on the subject for 10 years, and calculates that whereas the council spends Pounds 1 million a year on doping control and drug-testing procedures, there is no equivalent budget for child protection. She urges legal and financial resources to be made available more readily for this area.

"To my mind, drug abuse was the sports problem of the 1980s and sexual abuse is the problem of the 1990s," Professor Brackenridge told The TES Scotland.

"We don't know if we're over-estimating or under-estimating, but I'm pretty confident it's more widespread in sport than is realised.

"I've been accused of scare-mongering or conducting a witch-hunt, but it was shown when swimming coach Paul Hickson was convicted that these things are happening in sport."

After Dunblane, Professor Brackenridge conducted a survey of the parents of 186 young athletes aged 13-19 to determine what they knew of the coaches who instructed their children. While most knew of the coach's qualifications to teach their subject, few knew anything about their personal background.

The professor is in no doubt that sport has been used as a vehicle to get access to children and pointed out in her submission to the Cullen Inquiry that the killer Thomas Hamilton used voluntary sport organisations to gain access to children.

She pointed out that voluntary organisations fall outside the regulatory framework for child protection which applies to public sector employees. Whereas the Scout movement had managed to prevent him re-joining, there were no prevention systems in place in a sports context.

"The problem in sport is that the sports councils see it as a problem for the governing bodies and the governing bodies believe it is something for the sports councils and it is batted between the two. Things are starting to be done but it is too little, too late," Professor Brackenridge continued.

The NCF, in partnership with the National Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), have now printed leaflets and posters on "Protecting Children From Abuse" which have been distributed to the sports governing bodies in England. At present, only Glasgow City Council from Scotland has requested a substantial supply.

In the autumn, the NCF is to begin a programme of training up tutors in the subject who will train coaches at local sports centres and within local authorities in England.

But Scotland still has some catching up to do.

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