Safeguarding children in sport as lockdown eases

Last updated: 11 Jun 2021 Topics: Safeguarding children Safer recruitment

As the government, again, begins the gradual task of loosening restrictions, sports are understandably keen to start returning to face-to-face activities.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent lockdown had put a stop to active participation in sport for several months in the UK. As things resume however, restrictions, rules and practical guidance still govern these activities and must be accommodated by individuals, clubs and organisations seeking to bring more people together for sports activities of any kind.

Government guidance for sport

DCMS has released guidance for England on the re-introduction of some elements of sports activity. There is guidance for elite level and guidance for community providers. Sports organisations and clubs should familiarise themselves and comply with this guidance.

There is similar guidance for Northern Ireland and Wales, where the easing of lockdown restrictions differ from those in England. 

Addressing the ongoing coronavirus risk will require an approach that will no doubt further stretch resources at delivery level. There are practical measures to put in place to limit the potential transmission of the virus:

  • cleaning equipment
  • not sharing equipment
  • using personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • social distancing
  • restricting group sizes

These measures will put additional strain on those organising and delivering the activity, potentially with a reduced workforce due to people still needing to self-isolate.

What sports organisations need to do

Whilst following the government guidance on restarting sport during coronavirus, organisations should:

  • not compromise on safeguarding practice to meet coronavirus measures
  • postpone any planned activity until it can be provided safely, both in terms of coronavirus measures and safeguarding
  • continue to risk assess safeguarding practice in your activity as before
  • make sure all adults working with children are assessed for their suitability
  • make sure all staff and volunteers maintain some level of safeguarding training and continue to refresh their safeguarding knowledge

It’s important for sports organisations to remember that parents and young people have a right to expect that children’s safeguarding and wellbeing is not compromised by the desire to restart activities.

Additional safeguarding considerations for coaches

Many children and young people have been apart from friends and away from any sort of social interaction for a long period of time. As they start to attend sports activities again, it is understandable that there may be some nerves and anxieties about returning.

Here are some additional safeguarding considerations to take into account as sport and activity begin to operate again and children return to play:

  • regularly review and put all practical coronavirus safety arrangements in place and communicate these clearly to children and parents prior to reopening
  • reassure children and parents and be clear on everyone’s responsibilities
  • listen to what children and young people may be saying or showing – be receptive, patient, if necessary make time outside the activity
  • be alert to possible disclosures and indicators of harm that occurred during lockdown
  • be extra vigilant and aware of your reporting responsibilities and routes
  • clubs may have children or staff members who have lost family or friends to coronavirus - be sensitive and supportive for bereaved individuals
  • understand that many children, parents and carers will still be very anxious and afraid of existing risks (including returning to club activities)
  • be aware of the impact of extended periods of social isolation on children and young people - disabled young people are more likely to have been identified as particularly virus-vulnerable and therefore isolated to a higher degree and for longer
  • ensure continued communication with all members - whether they return to play or not
  • understand the limitations of face masks for those who rely on lip reading or non verbal facial expressions. Try to safely accommodate these needs

Maintaining safeguarding standards and practice

It is absolutely vital that, in their enthusiasm to restart some face-to-face activities for young people, organisers do not ignore, abandon or otherwise dilute established practices, rules and regulations designed to safeguard children and provide the safest environment possible.

For example, in ‘normal’ times, most sports would carry out an effective assessment of the suitability of any adults working with children. In safeguarding terms, it is difficult to understand or justify why in the current circumstances, this protection would or should be reduced. For example, subjecting supervising individuals to much less, or even no screening arrangements simply in order to meet established supervision ratios.