Eighteen youth football clubs suspended over unchecked coaches

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Eighteen youth football clubs from across Scotland have been suspended from their leagues due to coaches not having full background checks.

It follows news that hundreds of youth coaches and officials have been debarred for failing to complete regulatory checks.

David Little, head of the Scottish Youth Football Association, said a backlog of vetting had been completed.

But he told MSPs that 488 people had been automatically debarred.

This was because they had not submitted an application to the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.

The suspended coaches and officials would previously only have had access to children under supervision from PVG-approved officials, Mr Little told members of the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee.

'Overall governance'

There are more than 15,000 volunteer coaches and officials who help run 39 SYFA leagues and coach 60,000 young players.

Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that a lack of funding and engagement from the Scottish Football Association was contributing to the problem.

He said: "What we've got is an organisation which is effectively run on a shoestring, trying to cope with an enormous number of PVG checks.

Image caption Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tam Baillie, called on greater engagement from the SFA

"I understand that they're now in discussion with Disclosure Scotland and I welcome those moves, but you need to take a step back here in terms of overall governance of our game and question why the SYFA have got so few resources to administer what is an important part of [football].

"The PVG checks are only as good as the information that is fed into them. There are key things about the culture and the approach that we take to our children and young people. I've been quite heavily involved with the SFA and professional football clubs and I've found that wanting, to be honest.

"The higher up the levels that you go in football, the more money is the driving force and, in my experience, that's at the expense of the best interests of children and young people."

'Dealt with'

The SYFA set a deadline of 28 February to clear a backlog of about 950 applications. David Little told MSPs that a further 1,170 were now being processed after an influx in applications for next season.

Mr Little said later: "We said late last year that clubs which do not expedite these compulsory checks would lose their member status and that those volunteers without a PVG certificate would be placed under a precautionary suspension. It is encouraging that the overwhelming majority of clubs take these responsibilities extremely seriously, but those that have not complied have now been suspended from all competitions.

"It is disappointing that we have been forced to suspend these 18 clubs, but player safety is our number one priority and we were determined to ensure that a strong signal was sent out across the country that these standards are non-negotiable.

"A total of 488 volunteer officials who have not completed PVG checks within three months of joining a club have been placed under precautionary suspension until such time as their checks are complete."

He added: "It is a key principle of SYFA membership that, until they have been cleared by the Disclosure Scotland process, volunteers joining clubs are only allowed to participate in activities under the direct supervision of a PVG-checked coach or official, of which there are more than 15,400 registered with the SYFA."

When asked how long they were coaching in the SYFA before they were suspended, Mr Little said: "That would vary from official to official. They would have had access (to children) only via supervision."

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The Holyrood session on child protection in sport follows allegations of historical abuse in football. Police Scotland is investigating and the SFA has set up an independent review.

Last month, Disclosure Scotland, which runs the PVG scheme, told MSPs the SYFA turned down an offer of help to clear the backlog of checks.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan told the committee his organisation had also offered to help.

He said: "Back in February 2015, we offered support on child protection matters to the SYFA which was rejected at the time in favour of further financial support."

Mr Little said: "I think at this particular stage we're trying to get the ability to bring more volunteers in to do more of the work (process applications).

"It would certainly assist if we had the ability to increase staff. The help that was on offer was in respect of the checking of the forms at meetings.

"With all due respect, that wasn't the assistance we required at that particular time. We've since had meetings with Disclosure Scotland where we've spoken about training and process."

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