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26 April 2017, 05:33
Urgent action is needed to strengthen the system that registers people who work with children, according to a parliamentary report.
Holyrood's Sport Committee has warned the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) system "may not be preventing unsuitable people from doing regulated work''.
A Scottish Government review of the system is anticipated to take 12 months with new legislation potentially in place by 2019.
MSPs, however, said action was required now and argued there was a "compelling'' case for the scheme to be made mandatory for all sports organisations in Scotland.
The committee's inquiry into child protection in sport was launched in the wake of allegations of historical child sexual abuse in football.
The report raises concerns about a backlog of PVG checks waiting to be carried out on coaches and officials working with young players in the game.
The Scottish Football Association (SFA) had been "asleep on the job'' while the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) provided "misleading'' evidence, it said.
Committee convener Neil Findlay said: "Our evidence highlighted variations in how the PVG scheme operates in sports across Scotland.
"Ultimately, we believe the current system of PVG checks may not be preventing unsuitable people from doing regulated work with children.
"We're talking about the safety of children - urgent action is needed now to strengthen the scheme as 2019 is too long to wait for new legislation.
"In relation to football, we have raised serious concerns about the ability of the SYFA to ensure PVG checks are carried out efficiently.
"We cannot even now be confident that the SYFA is being truthful in relation to the size of their backlog and consequently that, as an organisation, they are committed to undertaking the appropriate PVG checking expeditiously.
"We consider the SFA to have been asleep on the job and complacent in this area.
"Based on the information provided, we are left with concerns about the current protections being afforded to youth footballers in Scotland.''
The report noted that measures were being adopted to ensure child protection policies are in place but added: "A soft-touch approach may have been previously warranted, however it is clear from the evidence we have received this is no longer applicable.
"The SFA have, whatever they claim, responsibilities.
"The current approach is simply not working effectively to protect children and young people in football, and in our view the ultimate responsibility for this lies with the SFA as the governing body.''
MSPs called for a strengthening of the child protection minimum operating requirements that sports governing bodies have to meet, recommending future grants from SportScotland "be conditional on adequate procedures not only being in place but being timeously adhered to''.
The report also raised concerns football agents are not covered by the need for child protection checks and called for the "anomaly'' to be addressed.
A spokesman for the SYFA said: "Whilst we have not yet received a copy of the report, the thousands of volunteers and the staff of the SYFA place the safety of Scotland's youth footballers at the heart of everything we do.
"We are one of the country's largest users of PVG checks and register thousands of new officials every year. We have tightened our procedures in recent months and are amongst the very best-performing youth sports bodies in the country when it comes to ensuring Disclosure Scotland checks are carried out in a timely fashion.
"We are very disappointed with comments that we in any way misled anyone about our procedures and have been open and honest in all our dealings with the Parliament.
"We will, of course, study the report in detail once we receive a copy and have a number of ongoing initiatives to ensure we continually monitor and improve our systems in this most vital of areas.
"We will also continue to work with our colleagues at the SFA, Disclosure Scotland, Volunteer Scotland Disclosure Services and the NSPCC to monitor and improve these systems.''
Aileen Campbell, Minister for Sport, said: "We all share the committee's desire to ensure that all children are protected and I welcome this report, and we will consider the findings carefully.
"The Scottish Government works closely with a range of public and third sector partners to ensure the most appropriate checks are in place to minimise the risks of harm to our young people and ministers recently met with governing bodies of sport to ensure all measures were being taken to safeguard young people in sport.
"The Deputy First Minister announced a review of the PVG scheme last year which will review all aspects of the scheme. The review will lead to a formal consultation and we will take forward any legislation necessary to ensure the PVG scheme retains its essential purpose of safeguarding.''