David Sparkes, chief executive of the Amateur Swimming Association in England, will address the issue of child protection in sport at a seminar in Dunfermline tomorrow (Saturday). It is an issue that has increasingly concerned the association in recent years particularly with the case of coach Paul Hickson, which resulted in a prison sentence.
The seminar, organised by the Scottish Sports Council and the Scottish Sports Association in association with the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, will address the legal issues involved. Mr Sparkes said: "The initiative should come from the Sports Council. It is an ethics issue and the governing bodies need clear guidelines on how far we should go."
A booklet on Child Protection Procedures in Swimming states that it is the responsibility of every adult to protect children and recognises that the ASA has "both a moral and possibly a legal obligation" to provide them with the highest possible care. "This is an issue that sport has to deal with. It is an issue for society as a whole and sports cannot exist in a cosy atmosphere. There is nothing that gets me madder than hearing people say that it is not something that is happening in their sport," Mr Sparkes said.
"No one knows how widespread it is and sport can do things. First, we can establish a code of ethics and, second, we also need to establish a mechanism for dealing with complaints. Third, clear policy guidelines should be put in place. Youngsters need to be encouraged to articulate their concerns."
Swimming clubs are advised that it is "essential" that all volunteers and staff give full details of their background and their experience of working with children. At least two references should be taken up. Mr Sparkes adds: "Coaches also have to be protected from false allegations and coach abuse is another issue that needs to be looked at."
Alan Grosset, vice-chairman of the SSC and honorary legal adviser to the SSA, said the seminar will also help explain some of the complex issues involving sport and the law. "We want to avoid situations like the Diane Modahl drugs case in athletics which can bankrupt sports," Mr Grosset said.