By Tony Attwood
You may recall, if you are regular reader that we have taken quite a lot of interest in issues such as The sexual exploitation of young footballers in which we tried to show that there are really deep and serious problems throughout England in this regard.
Indeed there were several articles in this series as we found that clubs were advised not to investigate historical sex abuse allegations. Our view was that the enquiry into these crimes were being hampered by the FA. And we’ve also been considering the abuse of female footballers
Of course, the child sex abuse cases were of such significance that they couldn’t be covered up, but even then the media seemed anxious not only to get them out of the way as soon as possible, but also to move on as if nothing had been discovered.
Our view was different: that the level of abuse that was apparent indicated that it was more than likely that many other things were wrong with the running of football. Anything that smacks of football keeping secrets thus becomes worthy of investigation.
Now one topic that kept arising, which had nothing at all to do with the earlier investigations, was the number of teenagers who sign up for professional clubs, and how youngsters who didn’t make it, could just be cast aside, often because of injuries picked up early on. And it struck me that given what I think has been the ineptitude of football clubs and authorities at keeping children safe from sexual predators, was there any reason to think that the same clubs were any good at keeping children safe from injury?
In short, what protection do young players have from coaches who over train them, ignoring the fact that such training programmes might result in life-changing or career-ending injuries? And because I had no idea of the answer I started to search for the records.
From here, I found The Football Association medical research programme: an audit of injuries in academy youth football published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.(and you don’t really get much more authoritative than that) which gave the likelihood of youngsters suffering from certain injuries at certain ages.
This research suggests certain injuries occur with rather horrifying regularity. And I wondered if schools, amateur clubs and professional clubs warned parents of injuries that such injuries could happen, and not just take away the child’s dreams of playing professionally, but leave permanent disabilities, injuries, and mental and physical scars. Come to that, were the children insured against injuries caused by negligence in training at a professional club?
So as befits one who (admittedly years back) studied such subjects as psychology and such topics as the biological basis of behaviour, I went looking for statistics and records. As a starting point, I wanted to know how many youngsters get career or life-changing injuries.
But it turns out that in terms of injuries to children and members of the youth team, there is no central registry! The records of individual players’ injuries are kept only by the club. And there are no regulations saying that the clubs need to keep medical records for x years, and no requirement for them to keep or lodge elsewhere the all-important backup copies.
So, as things stand a 15 year old can train with a professional club, suffer an injury and not be able to play anymore. At that point the medical and training records are vital, so a) we can see if he or she was being trained dangerously by the club and b) so that a picture of the injury can be built up and experts can say, “Whatever you do, don’t train 14 year olds doing x y z”. And of course if the club was not taking proper precautions to protect a child from injury, those records would show it.
Except where those records exist, they are kept by the very people who, if there has been overtraining or inappropriate training, are guilty of training the youngster without due care and attention. Which in turn means that if there were ever an enquiry into a young player’s injury, the club could say, “we’ve not kept the records of what happened.”
In short, in training youngsters to play football, the people who are most likely to train children in a dangerous way, are expected to keep records of how they train the children!!!
To be clear, there’s no central register of data on how children and teenagers are injured while training with professional clubs. And, there is no requirement for clubs to keep the records with backup copies held elsewhere (maybe by the League or the FA or even the Dept of Media Culture and Sports, or better still all of them) so that the data is safe and secure.
As a result no one can do proper research into the impact of training methods on youngsters. As a result of that, if there is a suspicion that if a school or club is using dangerous training techniques, no one will be able to prove anything, because there won’t be any records.
Just as having serious independent oversight of all people working with minors is vital to prevent child sex abuse, bullying etc, so having detailed record-keeping of training methods with multiple off-site backups is vital to help us learn about training techniques that can cause permanent harm, and to hold to account those who are reckless in their training of young people.
Given the horrors of the child sex abuse cases that have been found to abound in football one might think that someone, somewhere would by now have thought, “can we have proper records kept of both physical and mental conditions suffered by children and teenagers training with professional clubs?” But it seems, no one has done this.
And let me be clear, this is not me saying, “Hi I write about football, and work in an unrelated field of psychology and I want to know about injuries to young players.” This is me simply asking where the data on training and the injuries of young players is kept, so that research by medically trained people can be undertaken in the event of a serious injury to a child.
It is a blindingly obvious need to keep these records safe. And yet there is no central register, and there are no regulations as to how secure the records have to be kept or where. Plus there are no penalties being applied for people and clubs that don’t keep proper records or lose them.
Football is a £5 billion a year industry. The game is dangerous and players can get injured, both as children and as adults, both mentally and physically. These injuries can wreck their careers and their lives.
AND YET CLUBS ARE NOT OBLIGED TO MAKE AND KEEP SAFE FULL MEDICAL RECORDS WITH OFF-SITE DUPLICATES!
This is a matter of the protection of children and the solution is simple: all medical notes and records must be recorded digitally with copies sent to a central hub maintained with backups by a competent agency (which probably means not the FA!). Any club failing to do this will be punished – not in terms of fines which bigger clubs can easily pay, but in terms of points deductions and refusal of the right to run any facilities for under-16s. Then parents would know who is, and who is not, looking after their youngsters and could avoid the clubs that take risks with their children’s safety.
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