From Learning Lessons to Taking Action: ACT and CPSU Safeguarding Adults in Sport Conference 2022

ACT and CPSU Event

The 2022 ACT and CPSU Safeguarding Adults and Children in Sport Conference took place on Zoom over two mornings on 19 and 20 January.

From Learning Lessons to Taking Action, the conference challenged attendees to create a safer place for all children and adults in their organisation, whatever their role.

Annamarie Phelps CBE is the current Chair of the British Horseracing Authority and Vice Chair of the British Olympic Association. Annamarie chaired and provided introductory sessions on both days. She also conducted panel discussions at the end of each day.

The conference explored:

  • How participants ensure that their organisation is operating a safer culture for participants of all ages, abilities, race, cultures, sexuality, sex, and gender
  • Protecting and safeguarding the wellbeing of those taking part
  • How organisations ensure that everyone feels able to share any concerns at an early stage
  • How organisations ensure that everyone feels confident to interrupt or question poor practice, lower-level concerns and or abusive behaviours.

The keynote presentations and workshops addressed:

  • The learning from recent reviews about safeguarding and welfare concerns in sport and other settings
  • New strategies from government and sports councils
  • Initiatives to embed best practice in safeguarding
  • Supporting and responding to the voices of those with lived experience of abuse within sport and physical activity
  • How we can develop safer cultures in our organisations

The conference had an amazing response. Over 250 people signed up to attend from across the sport and physical activity sector in all Home Nations.

Day One – Organisational Responsibilities

Sir Peter Wanless, Chair of NSPCC, welcomed participants.

This was followed by three keynote speakers:

Governance in Sport -Jemima Coates and Rob Morini (UK Sport)

Read UK Sport’s overview of A Code for Sports Governance here.

Rob and Jemima affirmed the UK Sport mission: To create the greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments; reaching, inspiring and uniting the nation.

A consultation found that 87% find the revised code for sport governance helpful. Particularly helpful is its impact on board and organisational governance.

The revised code has a new focus on safeguarding, as well as on ongoing transparency and accessibility.

You can access the presentation slides here. You can also access the Sport England Club Matters online governance guide here.

Learning from Safeguarding reviews in Sport – Christopher Quinlan QC

Christopher Quinlan QC is a barrister experienced in prosecuting and defending cases of homicide and serious sexual assault. He authored the LTA ” Independent Review into events at Wrexham Tennis Centre”.

In 2020 an Independent Review called upon UK Athletics to evaluate its safeguarding policies and procedures. Following this, Christopher led a review of the structure, composition and operation of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Disciplinary Panel, Appeal Board and Licensing. He is also the Independent Chair of the Judicial Panel of World Rugby and The Football Association.

In this session, Christopher shared his understanding that Safeguarding must be a fundamental thread in all aspects of an organisations.

Christopher highlighted key learning points:

  • Safeguarding must be visible in an organisation – like the lettering in a stick of Blackpool rock.
  • Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and it must also be a condition of club affiliation to a governing body
  • There should be meaningful and effective training for everyone in an organisation at the correct level for their role
  • Effective compliance needs to be in place to ensure that safeguards are effective
  • Investigations need to be carried out using recognised frameworks, using a consistent approach and by suitable people
  • ‘You are not alone’ – there is guidance and support, including these investigation guides and templates.

Christopher ended by recognising that safeguarding is not glamorous. Safeguarding personnel are doing their best in often difficult circumstances.

Safeguarding culture in the virtual world -Jim Gamble, CEO, Ineqe

Ineqe CEO Jim is the former Head of Child Exploitation and Online Protection command of the National Crime Agency.

Ineqe is an organisation specialising in role of technology and online safety for children and young people. This involves providing safeguarding support and training to organisations.

Jim raised several key issues, including:

  • The need for safeguarding expertise on boards. We must treat “safeguarding” as separate idea, and not just part of “health and safety” and “human resources”.
  • Organisations must also make safeguarding part of induction and training.
  • Safeguarding policies need to be useful and ‘have legs’. So they should be working documents.
  • Safer recruitment – there should be a single pathway for staff and volunteers. And if an organisation wants to deviate from this process, they must not do so without senior sign-off.

You can access resources relating to Jim’s session and his work here.

Following these talks, participants could attend one of six workshops.

Inclusive Culture = Safer Culture – Nathan Stephenson, Disability Sport Wales

Nathan encouraged participants to think about their cultures, behaviour and values, as well as their unconscious biases regarding people with disabilities.

As an activity, participants had to list six words that they’d use to describe an inclusive culture. All the words related in some way to how one approaches practice, how one approaches people, and how one encourages ways of being.

The workshop next explored the benefits of an inclusive culture. It creates an environment where peoples’ differences can lead to growth. Inclusive cultures also create places where people feel they can be their genuine selves.

It also explored the impact that labelling can have on people. It can lead to stereotyping, to offence and withdrawal, and to “learned helplessness”.

You can access the presentation slides here. You can also listen to a podcast ACT recorded with Fiona and Nathan here.

Creating Culture Change – Bianca Logronio, Kent County Council

“Adults are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of action” – Richard Pascale.

The workshop defined culture as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular group of people”. It next asked  participants: “What are the ideas, customs and behaviours of a safe culture?”

They explored the three foundations of a safer culture: Listen, learn, and lead, and discussed the link between thoughts (ideas and beliefs), and behaviour (customs and action).

The workshop demonstrated the importance of deciding – at an individual or committee/board level – to lead culture change by creating specific changes in behaviour that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound)

You can access the presentation slides here. You can also learn more about the ACT #SaferCultureSaferSport campaign here.

Learning From Safeguarding Adults Reviews in Other Sectors – Lisa Curtis, Joanne Pell, ACT

Through studying other sectors we can learn to recognise the signs of poor safeguarding cultures. We can also recognise the role we can play in creating more effective safeguarding cultures.

Creating a safer culture is not a box ticking exercise. It’s all about working towards shared values, with a common purpose and collaboration across the whole organisation. So a safer culture is clear and transparent, with high levels of trust and a focus on people.

The workshop also explored a few “household names” of poor cultures that lead to abuse. They identified a “golden thread” common to all these examples – including power, control, and a lack of oversight.

You can access the presentation slides here.

Getting the Board on Board Nicola Dean, ACT, Denise Richards, CPSU

Jayne Wilson, the Lead Safeguarding Officer for Active Lancashire, began by explaining how she is a member of the Lancashire Safeguarding Adults Board. There are many benefits to having close links to the board. These include putting sport onto the agenda, and having people she can consult with about any safeguarding issues that come into the active partnership.

Paul Hughes from Nottinghamshire Safeguarding Adults Board next gave an overview of the role of a Safeguarding Adults Board. This includes overseeing all safeguarding work that takes place in their locality. It also includes producing a strategic plan informing of what’s to come.

Denise next explored the role of the board in sports organisations and highlighted the key role of the board champion for safeguarding. This role is now in A Code for Sports Governance that was discussed by UK Sport.

You can access the presentation slides here. You can also listen to the podcast Jayne Wilson recorded with ACT here

Learning from Tokyo and Rio – Clare Cunningham, British Paralympics and Kimberley Walsh, ACT

So what can we learn from the Rio Paralympics and the Tokyo Paralympics?

A key lesson is that the vast majority of athletes were “confident in the team environment’s safety and security that Paralympics GB created.” The majority of athletes rated their experience as a team member as “World Class”. Many also rated it as “very good.”

Paralympics GB succeeded in creating a positive culture. So the workshop explored some of the ways they achieved this. For example, they appointed a number of key safeguarding roles, including 11 trained designated safeguarding officers and 15 trained mental health champions. They also made welfare and wellbeing a priority from the start, and they held regular meetings to identify and act upon possible risks.

You can also access an ACT resource dealing with the vulnerability of elite athletes here.

Overview of Learning From Sport Reviews – Paul Stephenson, CPSU

“The welfare of the child is paramount”. Does your sport culture reflect this?

Based on examining 11 reports from a range of sport organisations, Paul identified six key issues for the sport and voluntary sector:

  1. Lack of priority for safeguarding roles and responsibilities.
  2. No clear safeguarding policies.
  3. Limited training requirements.
  4. Poor engagement with parents and children.
  5.  Inadequate understanding of risk and when to report.
  6. Organisational cultures do not reflect aims.

So if we’re to see real change, we must clarify safeguarding roles and responsibilities. We must also develop robust safeguarding policies and procedures, and a training plan to include all stakeholders.

You can access the presentation slides here.

You can also read the CPSU briefing on learning from inquiries about safeguarding practice in sport here.


Day Two – Listening and Implementing

Day two began with two keynote talks:

Listening to People with lived Experience – Paul Stewart – former professional footballer

Paul is an English former professional footballer who played top division football for Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

In this session, Paul shared his experience of being groomed as an individual. He also talked about how the now-deceased football coach Frank Roper groomed his family.

Paul described the ongoing impact of the abuse on his life as an adult, his mental health and his relationships with his wife and children.

Paul has spoken out publicly about this abuse. He now spends much of his time sharing that experience in the hope that this will prevent others going through the same ordeal.

In conversation with Paul Stephenson from the CPSU, Paul Stewart described how this hope keeps him going through times when it is difficult to speak about his experiences. He discussed how important it is that all participants in sport and those supporting them, such as families, need to be aware of how the power of the coach and the allure of success can be used to groom and control individuals.

Paul also spoke about the power of naming abuse so that children and adults can speak out if they feel or notice something that seems wrong.

Visit Paul’s website to learn more about his life and work.

Bystander Intervention – Dr Rachel Fenton, University of Exeter

Rachel set up the Women Law Students Forum at UWE. She gained ESRC Festival of Social Science funding to work with her students and pupils at a local secondary school on tackling sexual violence.

Rachel became the lead on a Public Health England project on bystander intervention for the prevention of sexual and domestic violence in university settings.

In this session, Rachel shared the work of the Intervention Initiative with us.

The Intervention Initiate explores how we decide whether a behaviour is acceptable or not. Intervention training also supports people to recognise the attitudes that underpin abuse and behaviours classed as ‘micro aggressions’.

Research shows that abusers take their cues from others. So when discriminatory attitudes and micro aggressions are tolerated it can embolden even more harmful abuse.

The training supports people to make interventions that interrupt such behaviour. This signals to everyone – from the person who behaved in this way, to their intended target, to any bystanders present – that such behaviour isn’t acceptable.

Based on this project’s success in educational settings, “Football Onside” is extending it to sport settings. You can read more about this project here.

Rachel would be happy to hear from other sport and activity organisations who want to become partners in the Bystander Intervention work.

Day 2 Workshops

Once again, participants could attend one of six workshops:

Bystander Intervention, Practical Steps – Kevin Murphy, NWG

“Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

What happens when nobody does anything? Inaction can lead to affirmation, emboldenment and enablement, and this in turn can lead to abuse.

Kevin referred to the Everyone’s Invited Challenge. This involves a series of personal pledges that anyone can make:

  • Treat others with empathy and respect.
  • Talk about rape culture with my family and friends.
  • Not start or spread sexual rumours about other people.
  • Believe and support survivors.
  • Call out derogatory or offensive comments with empathy and understanding.
  • Never take or share photos without consent.

You can access the presentation slides here.

Putting the Athlete at the Centre – Elaine Francis, British Athletic Commission 

A discussion about understanding the impact that trauma can have on athletes.

Many athletes have histories of trauma both inside and outside sport. But often they don’t recognise the significant effects of trauma in their lives. Either they don’t draw connections between their trauma and their presenting problems, or they avoid the topic all together.

The workshop next discussed how we can learn from people with lived experiences, with some tips on how to be “trauma-informed”.

You can access the presentation slides here.

Gathering The Views of Children and Young People – Luton and Bedfordshire Active Partnership

The Luton and Bedfordshire Active Partnership aims to give young people a platform to influence and support the direction of sport and physical activity in their area. They want to listen to their views, and also use the insight they gain to support young people to become more physically active.

Once more, it comes down to culture. So the Luton and Bedfordshire Active Partnership aim to change the culture for young people. It’s all about ensuring they feel they can report concerns, and that they know what to do when they have concerns.

You can access the presentation slides here.

Learning From Other Sectors: Safer Cultures and Power Dynamics in Faith Groups – Cate Meredith, NSPCC 

Investigations into child sexual abuse in faith settings tell us a lot about the role that organisational culture and power dynamics can play in creating and maintaining the conditions for abuse.

We can learn from faith settings through examining the actions they take to address abuse – as well as the areas that still need improvement.

You can access the presentation slides here.

Coach Welfare – Heather Douglas and Ian Braid, UK Coaching 

Coach welfare is all about “looking after the people who look after people.”

UK Coaching explained the role they take in supporting coaches, through representing, empowering, assisting, and connecting. Heather and Ian also led a group discussion about how we look after the people who look after people. You can access the presentation slides here.

Adult Safeguarding and Wellbeing in the Unaffiliated Sport and Activity Sector – Catherine Sykes, ACT, Steve Boocock, Wiltshire and Swindon Sport 

How can we develop our work with safeguarding adults in unaffiliated and unregulated sport and activity settings?

This session explored:

  • What do we mean by “unregulated sport and activity”?
  • What safeguarding challenges do we face in this sector?
  • How can you help safeguard adults in your organisation?
  • What resources will help support you in your role?

You can access the presentation slides here.

Making Your Club a Safer Place – Nicola Dean, ACT, Di Murray, CPSU

Organisations should focus on creating a safer culture for their participants and workforce from the start of their experience. This workshop discussed how organisations can act to put participants at the heart of activities, and prioritise the welfare and wellbeing of everyone taking part.

This session began by explaining what we talk about when we talk about “culture”. It then referred to the Ann Craft Trust #SaferCultureSaferSport campaign, before encouraging participants to share ideas for how they could make their clubs and organisations safer for everyone.

You can access the presentation slides here. You can also see some of the ideas participants had for creating safer cultures here.

Some feedback from attendees

Reminded me of why I do what I do and inspired me to keep pushing…..

It was so excellent in terms of content! Also the tech was so well-handled. It was so seamless and slick.

Great to hear from a variety of speakers. I would definitely attend another conference in the future.

I would like to particularly mention Paul Stewart’s presentation as very moving. It shows the real need for safeguarding, and for responsible and inquisitive volunteers, staff, etc. It also shows how a positive culture in sport that allows such behaviour to be rooted out and support can give confidence to survivors/bystanders to come forward.

Feedback from the CPSU and ACT

CPSU and ACT would like to thank the chair and all the presenters for offering their time to plan and deliver at this event. Delivering via Zoom is not easy, and we think everyone did a brilliant job of delivering some key messages while dealing with the technology.