Parents can take comfort from moves to protect kids in sport from abuse

Parents can take comfort from moves to protect kids in sport from abuse

Parents can take comfort from moves to protect kids in sport from abuse

Updated 7 September 2017, 13:50 AEST

The Australian Sports Commission's determination to make clubs safer for all children should come as a relief to parents and fair warning to coaches, managers and executives, writes Paul Kennedy.

The Australian Sports Commission's determination to make clubs safer for all children should come as a relief to parents and fair warning to coaches, managers and executives.

Naivety is no excuse for failing to protect kids.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last year examined several sporting cases, including the rape of an eight-year-old soccer player in New South Wales, the repeated assaults of junior cricketers in country Queensland and the abuse of a promising teenage tennis player, who later attempted suicide.

Though its recommendations are yet to be released, the commission found evidence of weak and ad-hoc policies around reporting abuse and screening adult coaches.

Such failings ruined lives.

Recent football scandals in the United Kingdom and United States proved yet again the dangers children faced in leagues of wilful ignorance were universal.

The royal commission's preliminary findings were not entirely grim, and found there were people doing exceptional work in this area.

Praise was given to Football NSW child protection officer Michelle Hanley for her "diligence" and "commitment" over 15 years.

In her evidence, Ms Hanley urged the commission to strengthen mandatory reporting laws — a suggestion now being considered.

The Royal Commission also acknowledged the website Play By The Rules — administered by the ASC and Australian Human Rights Commission, among others — as a "valuable and effective resource in promoting child protection in sport".

"We consider that Play By The Rules requires greater promotion," the report said.

"In addition, considerations should be given to including both a parent 'toolkit' [portal] and a children's 'toolkit'."

The ASC is now building these toolkits and will go even further, making policies for protecting children uniform across Australia, including commitment statements from all clubs, step-by-step processes for reporting abuse and expert-informed screening of volunteers and employees.

ASC director of leadership and culture Merrilee Barnes has been buoyed by the goodwill of organisations.

"We've had nothing but support from sports in wanting to get better," she said.

"Sports know that parents want reassurance that their children are participating in a club that is safe."

Some sports understand they will come up against resistance from tired club officials who fear the extra workload of checking volunteers' backgrounds might deter members or would-be members from volunteering.

Such people need not worry.

Stronger checks and safer environments will give clubs the chance to promote themselves; increased accountability will help leagues make stronger community connections.

Families will be grateful and more children will play games.