Learning from case data in sport

Last updated: 18 Oct 2023 Topics: Safeguarding children

Emotional abuse is the fastest growing category of abuse being reported within sport, according to the latest research from the CPSU and Loughborough University.

The safeguarding case data research project uses a standardised tool to collate information about concerns managed by sport.

The information is submitted from participating national governing bodies (NGBs) of sport in England and Wales and analysed to identify themes and trends.

These anonymised findings can then be used to inform future safeguarding work, campaigns and training, and identify the resources needed across the sector.

Over its four years of use, the tool has looked at a total of 3,129 cases managed by 39 NGBs across the sports sector. Currently, all cases that require contact with a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), children’s services or the police are included.

Safe space

The research found that around half (54%) of the reported concerns were about behaviour that happened away from the sporting environment. This indicates that sport has provided a safe space where these concerns were either reported by young people or noticed and acted on by adults.

The analysis also showed that 91% of all the cases concerned incidents that happened less than 2 years prior to the disclosure. This means the data collected and any actions taken are relevant to current participants and practice.

Emotional abuse

During 2021-2022 there was a 12% increase in emotional abuse cases reported within sport, compared to the year the data collection began in 2018-2019. This makes emotional abuse the fastest growing type of abuse being reported within the sporting environment.

Improving people’s understanding of what emotional abuse is may help sport to tackle this type of abuse. This can be done by including emotional abuse examples in training opportunities, ensuring safeguarding policies and procedures include emotional abuse, sharing good practice across sports and linking with statutory agencies.

Online safety

The analysis also showed that there was an online element in 31% of the cases that originated within sport. In those cases that were categorised as non-contact sexual abuse, that figure rose to 76%.

Sports can increase their online safety training for staff and volunteers and consider how they can raise awareness and signpost young people and children to expert information about staying safe online.

Michelle North, Head of CPSU, said:

"This research goes a long way towards building an accurate and comprehensive picture of the scale and nature of safeguarding concerns in sport.

"The more NGBs that engage with this research, the more useful the learnings and conclusions will be. And that will benefit everyone, whether planning safeguarding priorities or looking at allocating resources."

The research also provided evidence to support changing the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to expand the positions of trust legislation. This change made it illegal for anyone in a position of trust in sport, such as a coach, to have a sexual relationship with a 16- or 17-year-old.