Legislation and external regulation may be the only way to protect the rights of children and young people involved in youth football, a Scottish Parliament Committee has warned.
In a report published today, the Public Petitions Committee welcomed measures introduced by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) since it first raised concerns about unfair contracts and the state of youth football. However, the Committee has also warned that progress in many areas has been too slow and that systemic issues remain, with over ten years passing since the petition was first lodged in Parliament - making it the longest-running petition in The Scottish Parliament.
While developments such as Club Academy Scotland players now being able to play recreational football, the establishment of a young player wellbeing panel, and the publication of a ‘Child Wellbeing and Protection Strategy’, have demonstrated a commitment to addressing the concerns raised in the petition, the Committee is not satisfied changes have improved child welfare sufficiently.
"The Committee is therefore making a number of recommendations to footballing authorities and the Government.”. It then continues “This includes calling for an independent evaluation of the work which has been carried out, in order to ensure the wellbeing of young players are protected with the possibility of legislation as a last resort".
Committee recommendations and conclusions include:
- That players under the age of 16 should not be required to sign up to multi-year contracts, proposing to extend the one-year registration period for players aged 10-14 to include 15-year-olds;
- That there should be an annual sampling of contracts to ensure that young players are being paid the minimum wage, however their club chooses to remunerate them;
- That the Government works with the SFA and SPFL to fully evaluate the measures already introduced, as well as to investigate the recommended changes;
- That it is incumbent on the Children and Young People’s Commissioner to maintain a clear focus on addressing the outstanding issues raised in this petition, as there appear to be breaches occurring in regard to young people’s human rights in football.
Speaking as the report was published, Committee Convener Johann Lamont MSP, said:
“There is a huge power imbalance between football clubs and the young people who aspire to play for them.
“Football is a passion for many young people and an offer to join a club’s youth set up may seem like a golden ticket. However, clubs trading in children’s dreams should not be hiding devils in the detail, such as contractual small print which too many young people and their parents or carers may overlook until it is too late.
“The Committee welcomes some of the measures introduced by the SFA since our consideration of this petition began, but this progress has been painfully slow. After 10 years, the Committee believes that time is up.
“A number of the issues in this petition are not simply about football, but the protection and welfare of our young people. Children under the age of 16 should not be expected to sign exploitative multi-year contracts, and young players should expect to be paid at least the minimum wage for their work.”
The Convener added:
“We are also concerned that the current Children and Young People’s Commissioner is not prioritising this petition in his office’s work, despite agreeing with his predecessor that issues remain unresolved. We believe that the Commissioner’s office still has a critical role to play in ensuring the rights of children involved in youth football are not overlooked.”
PE1319 was first lodged on 11th March 2010. ‘Improving youth football in Scotland’ has become the Parliament’s longest-running petition ever, and more info on it can be found online by clicking here.
The SFA’s ‘Child Wellbeing and Protection Strategy’, which is aligned with the Scottish Government’s framework for supporting children and young people, can be found here: https://www.scottishfa.co.uk/media/5463/scottish-fa-child-wellbeing-strategy.pdf
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