NI: BLM partner urges sporting bodies to take steps to protect against allegations of abuse
Risk and insurance law specialists BLM, with offices in Belfast and Dublin, has warned that sporting bodies are leaving themselves vulnerable to claims of sexual misconduct by not taking the necessary steps to protect against allegations of abuse.
Fintan Canavan, partner at BLM in Belfast, said organisations need to be aware of the way they prepare for and react to allegations of abuse and, most importantly, the practices that should be in place to mitigate against these issues arising in the first place.
Recent investigations into many notable high-profile cases, such as those into the US Gymnastics abuse scandal, highlight how warning signs can be missed and how more thorough background checks can be used to pro-actively prevent abuse.
Mr Canavan said: “Sports clubs and governing bodies must demonstrate how these policies are part of the day to day running of their club or organisation: the vast majority of people involved in sport, be they coaches or volunteers want their sport safe and enjoyable for all children. However, safeguarding has not traditionally been a focus in this sector and therefore it can be a challenge to have the records required. For example, it is vital that records of staff and visitor complaints are carefully handled and reviewed against older complaints and disciplinary investigations.
“A common thread in the failure to identify issues results from poor complaints management where complaints spread across a long period of time are forgotten about and dealt with as new and separate issues rather than a recurring pattern of behaviour. This is particularly prominent in amateur organisations where turnover at the top table normally recurs every few years.
“Reviewing archives and records to ensure they are up to date should be at least a yearly standard practice. Preparation now could make a significant impact on assisting any future investigations and minimising the delay of historic complaints.”
According to BLM, clubs and governing bodies who take a more proactive role on these matters will be better placed to help the police, potential victims and their organisations as a whole to better cope with the distress associated with an abuse allegation.
Mr Canavan added: “A straightforward system ensures any complaint is dealt with calmly and referred to a trained safeguarding officer who can obtain as much information as possible to allow the club to investigate quickly to respond accurately to any concerns brought to their attention.”