National sport governing bodies such as the Lawn Tennis Association, British Swimming and England Hockey have responded by raising awareness and visibly prioritising the welfare of participants at all ages and levels. Root and branch safeguarding reviews have led to updated and more rigorous inspection, audit and policy requirements. The message that safeguarding is everyone's responsibility is key and made clear through an expectation that all staff and volunteers understand the role they must play in keeping children and vulnerable adults safe.
Whilst higher education providers are not mentioned specifically in Working Together to Safeguard Children (WT), the statutory guidance on inter-agency co-operation, they are expected to comply with safeguarding requirements arising from the Children Act 2004 (as amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017). These include board level oversight of safeguarding arrangements, clear lines of accountability, a listening culture, suitable policies and procedures (including whistleblowing) and appropriate support, supervision and training for staff.
The most recent update to WT in September 2018 made specific reference to sports clubs for the first time, confirming the requirement for them to comply with Children Act duties. This alone created no new obligations but sports clubs are also now recognised as "relevant agencies", listed under para 38 of the Schedule to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review and Relevant Agency (England) Regulations 2018.
As a result, they must "collaborate and work effectively with the safeguarding partners [ie local authorities, the police and clinical commissioning groups] as required by any local safeguarding arrangements". Paid and volunteer staff "need to be aware of their responsibilities for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, how they should respond to child protection concerns and how to make a referral to local authority social care or the police if necessary".
The upshot is that while HE providers have long had a general safeguarding duty to children and vulnerable adults amongst their student bodies, there is no doubt that this responsibility now extends to users of in-house sports facilities, including members of the public of all ages as well as their own staff and students. Moreover, sports clubs are themselves now embedded within the national safeguarding regime led by external agencies.
In terms of how this responsibility should be discharged in practice, the national governing body of the sport in question will have published relevant resources, including template policies, on their respective websites. Common themes include the appointment of dedicated Welfare Officers with responsibility for safeguarding and attendance for key staff at specialist training courses, many of which are free of charge.
It is incumbent on HE providers to check if their general safeguarding arrangements need to be updated and whether in-house sports facilities should have separate or co-ordinated procedures and policies to create the most effective overall safeguarding regime. The welfare of the users of facilities at all ages and abilities will always be the main priority but it is only prudent and in the interests of all concerned to ensure that any sports clubs carrying the provider's brand and reputation demonstrate compliance and best practice.