The NSPCC has urged the Government to close a “loophole” that allows sports coaches to have sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care following football’s paedophile scandal.
The child protection charity also called for a tightening of regulations designed to prevent potential abusers working with children within sport, declaring the crisis to engulf the game had exposed “gaps” in how the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) operates.
It is already illegal for certain professionals, such as teachers and social workers, to have sex with anyone in their care under the age of 18 but the NSPCC said “position of trust” legislation did not currently apply to sports coaches and other youth workers.
Its chief executive, Peter Wanless, said: “It makes no sense for the law to potentially give abusers who are barred from working with children the opportunity to do just that.
“And it is remarkable that the roles like sports coaches are not considered to be a position of trust by law, given the significant amount of responsibility, influence and authority that an individual in this role can hold in a young person’s life.
“Sadly, we know that this trust can be abused and it is therefore vital that this legal definition is widened to include sports coaches and other youth workers, bolstering protection for teenagers at risk of grooming once they pass the age of consent.
“This is not about demonising certain jobs, but about protecting young people from a small minority of adults only too happy to take advantage of their standing in society to groom and abuse vulnerable children.”
It is currently illegal to hire someone to work with children regularly if they are barred from doing so – but only if that person would be operating unsupervised.
Indeed, sports clubs are no longer able to carry out a DBS check on anyone working with children on a supervised basis after the Prime Minister relaxed the rules in 2012, when she was Home Secretary.
Announcing the launch of its #TrustToLead campaign, the NSPCC said: “This means people who are barred from working with children are able to take up assistant or support roles in children’s clubs completely undetected, creating opportunities for them to abuse children within the club or to build up trust and abuse them outside of that setting.
“This loophole should be closed to better protect children not just in sport, but in other activities too. From toddlers to teenagers, whether they’re on the pitch, on stage, or in a place of worship, all children need the best legal protections to keep them safe.”
The charity said it had raised its concerns with the Home Office and with the Department for Culture Media and Sport.
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is completely committed to doing all it can to ensure people can participate in sport in safe and secure environments. In November, we wrote to sports governing bodies to look at their own safeguarding practices to make sure they are as robust as possible and that work is ongoing.”
The NSPCC launched its campaign a week after police released the latest figures in their nationwide inquiry into football’s child sexual abuse scandal.
The National Police Chiefs Council said more than 500 alleged victims had now come forward and that it had received twice as many reports of a potential crime through the NSPCC and forces around the country.
The figures showed 248 British clubs had been implicated – including several in the Premier League – with alleged victims ranging from the age of four to 20.