Scottish Football Association chiefs are to look into concerns about a lack of background checks on agents dealing with children as young as 11 amid allegations of historical child abuse in the game.
Leading football figures warned that regulations surrounding agents who act as “intermediaries” for promising young players under the current system are not rigid enough.
The issue emerged as Holyrood’s public petition committee took evidence on the way youngsters are treated by professional football clubs in Scotland, including the signing of contracts and compensation for wanting to move on.
MSPs heard that agents who act as intermediaries are required only to give a self-declaration that they have undergone the relevant disclosure or checks through the protecting vulnerable groups (PVG) scheme.
Andrew McKinlay, the SFA’s director of football governance and regulation told MSPs: “I accept, I think that’s an area we need to look at to see if there’s more we can do in that area. I do have oversight of the child abuse matter that you’ve alluded to, I will have oversight of the independent review that will be set up by us and I suspect this will be an area that they look into.”
Police Scotland is investigating numerous reports of child sexual abuse in football and the SFA is to establish an independent review into the allegations.
Roderick Houston, honorary vice-president of the Scottish Schools Football Association, said it is “profoundly concerned” about intermediaries.
“We think for anything up to school leaving age it’s completely inappropriate and would ask that the game looks at that very seriously, particularly in the current environment.”
Fraser Wishart, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Scotland, said his organisation had also raised concerns over intermediaries with the SFA and clubs.
He said: “They are allowed to sign representation contracts of sorts with minors so an 11/12-year-old lad with a guardian’s approval can sign a contract for an intermediary to represent him at that age. Why you need somebody to represent you at that age I don’t know.
“In terms of the welfare of young people, I think there should be greater checks of any intermediary that’s going to interact with young people.”
MSP also raised concerns that many youngsters can find themselves tied to clubs under the current set-up unless compensation is agreed with the club they wish to switch to. Tory MSP Brian Whittle, a former Olympic runner, said he had coached athletes to the highest level.
“I find it absurd that we’re using words like wages and agents and compensation for kids who should be out playing the game, enjoying the game and falling in love with the game,” he said.
“I just don’t understand how this current system in any way shape or form looks after their welfare of the child.”
“I’m getting so angry I think it’s insane.”
But Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) chief executive Neil Doncaster warned that there must be protections in place which ensure that clubs are appropriately compensated for the investment they put into developing young players.
Mr Doncaster said the current system does this.
“It strikes the right balance between the good of young players and encouraging clubs to invest in the future.”
Clubs have come under fire in recent weeks over claims that not all have been paying the national minimum wage.
Mr Wishart said: “Unfortunately I have seen contracts recently of £1 a week and £10 a week, and this goes all the way down to the part-time clubs as well.
“We all say that’s unacceptable, the law applies to everybody. I would like to see something in the rules to address that.”
Labour MSP Johann Lamont said: “I can’t see how it can possibly be anything other than simple exploitation.”
The SPFL had written to the clubs alleged to have breached national minimum wage legislation, Mr Doncaster said, and would investigate fully.
But he added: “What I can absolutely assure you, however, is that all SPFL clubs are fully bound by national minimum wage legislation, they are bound by the law of the land like every other club.”