Child protection checks on youth rugby coaches '˜not taken seriously'

Dozens of unregistered coaches may have been allowed to take charge of young rugby teams without fully completing child protection checks under the former head of the youth game in Scotland, it has emerged.

Scottish Rugby brought in new child protection guidelines in July last year. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to evidence given to an employment tribunal last week, PVG (Protecting Vulnerable Groups) checks carried out by Disclosure Scotland under the former director of domestic rugby Keith Russell “drifted and were not taken as seriously as they should have been”.

The Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) made a concerted effort to improve their child protection procedure in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal involving youth football in late 2016.

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But the SRU general secretary Robert Howat told a hearing that a failure to apply PVG monitoring under Russell contributed to him being dismissed from his role in May 2017.

Russell, the father of current Scotland international Finn Russell, has taken the SRU to a tribunal over claims he was unfairly sacked from his role.

Howat revealed a “traffic light” system had been introduced to help the union categorise clubs who had or had not complied with PVG registration, with member clubs facing penalties for refusing to comply with the rules.

Clubs in the “green” category included those “in the process” of complying with the PVG system, but also included those who had completed PVG checks.

Clubs that were given the “amber” rating were instructed that they must comply with the rules or risk having their funding withdrawn by the authority, while those classified as “red” faced disciplinary action.

However, evidence given during the hearing suggests the rules were “not stringently enforced”, leaving many clubs being placed in the “green” category despite their coaches not being fully PVG-certified.

Howat said he made it clear that non-PVG approved coaches “were not allowed to coach young people”.

Scottish Rugby brought in new child protection guidelines in July 2017, two months after Russell was dismissed from his post.

A spokesman for the SRU said: “Scottish Rugby takes the protection of young people involved in the sport extremely seriously and has a clear and comprehensive child protection policy in place which every club in Scotland must adhere to.

“There is a participation and funding requirement that they have a child protection officer in post, alongside complying with the required PVG checks for coaches and club members whose role involves regulated contact with young people. These requirements are being applied strictly.”

“With in-house child protection officers and comprehensive training programmes and advice available to support every club in Scotland in this area, Scottish Rugby continues to work closely with Disclosure Scotland and other relevant bodies to gather and share information and advice to all those involved in working with young people through rugby.”

A spokeswoman for Disclosure Scotland said: “We cannot comment on the details of individual cases. It is, however, our general position that we will actively assist any organisation who needs to use the PVG Scheme to do so effectively to protect vulnerable groups.

“Our customer engagement team will therefore contact colleagues in Scottish Rugby Union to identify whether they require our support.”