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By Tony Attwood
I have written a number of times about the way in which football is allowed to go its own way and do its own thing, as if it is above the law. This has been true in terms of the safety of grounds, and quite separately, in terms of the way children are protected.
As a result of the lax attitude among football administrators, combined with a feeling that the laws “don’t apply to us” we have had in England the appalling tragedies of the Bradford City stadium fire, and the child sex abuse cases in multiple clubs.
Now however, very, very slowly the way children and teenagers are treated in clubs is coming under investigation, and there has been a growing amount of chatter in relation to this on Linked In, I am told.
One current case that is gaining increased attention is in relation to the way in which children and teenagers can be taken on by clubs and then seemingly just cast aside without proper care or compensation if they get injured.
Now of course with any injury, there is always the question of whether or not the club did enough to prevent the injury, and to help the child recover thereafter, and the feeling (and I put it no more emphatically than that) I am getting in talking to people about this is that in some cases clubs do not give the attention to the children that they should do. If they are injured, tough, we can’t help, seems to be the attitude.
Indeed it seems it is far too easy for an unscrupulous club to take on a young player, for the young player to get a potentially career-ending injury, and then for the club simply to cast the youngster aside.
But I believe there should be protection for the child and the child’s family in such a case, with the club paying compensation in specific cases. But to do this we need the clubs to keep their medical records Yet it would appear from information I’ve picked up that some clubs are not keeping those records.
Then if the parent, or later the child as an adult, starts asking questions, the club simply says that they have no record of the injury and the medical records have been lost. It is of course the easiest get out there could be.
Of course, it is incredibly simple to sort this out, and that is by giving the clubs a legal responsibility to lodge all medical records weekly with the Football League and Premier League, with a note to the effect that if the records go missing the club will be held to be 100% responsible for any claim of injury and subsequent loss of employment opportunities. That might make them think twice.
But given the way some clubs behave we would probably need to go even further than that, and make the directors personally responsible for life for any such eventuality that happened while they were directors. That ought to slow their laissez-faire attitude toward the whole issue of the safety and well-being of young people.
The attitude of people running football clubs should never be assumed to be one that is orientated toward the well-being or safety of those working with the clubs or indeed attending games.
And for evidence of this we only have to think of the Bradford fire, where the stand went up in flames in four minutes, due in part to the build-up of rubbish under the seats while those who ran to the back of the stand to try and get out through the turnstiles found them locked. And remember this was AFTER the Hillsbrough tragedy! You might have thought someone would have learned a lesson.
Now that fire resulted in an inquiry into the disaster, and this found that Bradford had been warned that the stand was a significant fire risk. Upon that warning, the stand should have been closed, but no, the club decided to keep it open, until such time as they could build another one.
In such a world it is not surprising that young people can’t rely on clubs to look after their safety, any more than we can rely on clubs to keep proper records about anything.
The government’s view on safety in sports grounds and the need for a new regulator can be seen on the government website. But there is just one thing missing. Any detail of when things will change, or to put it succinctly, when clubs will no longer be able to get away with claiming that they have “lost the records”.
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