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This week is Safeguarding Adults Week, and I am delighted that DOCIAsport has some active involvement in this week of awareness hosted by the Ann Craft Trust. Going back to 2013 when I was a new CEO at the British Athletes Commission, I knew there was a need for an athlete voice speaking in the ‘System’, but an early referral confirmed to me how vital that was going to turn out to be.

I got wind of the fact that a 2012 Paralympian needed urgent support. The case centred around the fact that allegations had been made that he had been bullied by his coach and his head coach. The NGB had conducted an internal investigation and decided there was no case to answer. The impact on the athlete was severe; he had been detained under the Mental Health Act so his family, not knowing who to approach, reached out to a number of organisations who they thought could help. The BAC was ultimately one of these organisations and we did help.

I started doing my preparatory work to see who I could look to for help. The main challenge was that the athlete was 23 at the time and the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit couldn’t help. The Activity Alliance had no guidance on protection of adults at risk. Eventually my research led me to the door of Jenny Price, the then CEO of Sport England. She had discovered what I already knew – that there was no framework to offer guidance for adults at risk in sport. To this day this still shocks me that that was only 10 years ago. To her credit she immediately released startup funding to the Ann Craft Trust: Safeguarding Adults at Risk to design and implement a framework which is now embedded in the code of governance for sport.

I had the privilege of leading an organisation with 1,500 members across 40 sports. These were young people in prime condition and the very best in their sport in the UK if not the world. They never realised that in the broader sense they were all vulnerable adults too because of the ‘high-performance bubble’ they lived in, which was great – until it wasn’t. The investigations into cycling, rowing, canoeing, swimming, gymnastics etc. proved that and it was a salutary lesson in life to me and showed the value of being a member of a collective body.  

It is perhaps appropriate that my first commitment in working with the Ann Craft Trust is opening up their programme of events for the week and that I will be working with Kimberley Walsh the Safeguarding Adults in Sport Manager who was a high-performance canoeist. I will be running a one-hour workshop on one of my favourite subjects ‘Take and Give Care’, asking the attendees ‘Who’s looking after the people looking after the people?’ It seems that attendance has been very much in demand. The initial capacity was set at 25 people and that filled in a week. So, the Ann Craft Trust
re-opened the workshop and it was closed at 50 people in just under a day!

The sport and activity sector, whilst often seeing itself as unique, is in fact a reflection of broader society operating under various systems e.g. health, education and legal and all have their inherent strengths and weaknesses – strengths and weaknesses as defined by the people who work in each sector. So ‘take and give care’ and the question of ‘Who’s looking after the people looking after the people?’ is equally applicable and its good for me to look at other systems and see what I can learn and share.

So, I’m really looking forward to running a half-day ‘Take and Give Care’ workshop for the charity Versus Arthritis https://www.versusarthritis.org/ for the staff who are on the frontline working with people who live with an arthritic condition. As a man who has had two hip replacements as a result of osteoarthritis following a lifetime as a (journeyman) sportsman it feels appropriate that I have the opportunity to do this work.      

This is just the beginning, I am sure. So watch this space!