Whyte Report released – what it means for safeguarding in sport

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Safeguarding in sport is currently a hot topic with the Interim Whyte Report released on 8 February 2021 and Clive Sheldon QC’s comprehensive report published in mid-March. Both reports stem from individual complaints regarding abuse of children and young people in sport. 

The Interim Whyte Report

The Whyte Report was co-commissioned by Sport England and UK Sport following a series of complaints at all levels in the gymnastic world. Over 400 individuals submitted complaints and it is understood  that 39 referrals have been to authorities including the police. The allegations from gymnasts are of mistreatment and that British Gymnastics failed to deal with appropriate complaints when received.  The interim Chief Executive of British Gymnastics, Alastair Marks, states that he is committed to getting answers.

The three questions the Whyte review will address are: 

  1. Whether gymnastics well-being and welfare is or has been at the centre of the culture of British Gymnastics, its registered clubs and the coaches and if not, why not?
  2. Whether safeguarding concerns and complaints have been dealt with appropriately in the sport of gymnastics and if not, why not?
  3. Whether gymnasts and their parents, carers or guardians have felt unable to raise complaints with appropriate authorities and if so, why not?

The Sheldon Report

The Clive Sheldon QC Report is entirely different and focuses on child sexual abuse allegations in football between 1970 and 2005. The comprehensive 710 page review commissioned by the Football Association in 2016 makes these significant findings:

  • The FA was too slow to have sufficient protective measures in place between October 1995 and May 2000. 
  • There were institutional failings within football.
  • The FA could and should have done more to keep children safe.
  • The FA did not do enough to keep children safe and child protection was not regarded as an urgent priority.
  • Despite a comprehensive child protection policy being launched in May 2000, mistakes were still made by the FA.
  • Incidents of abuse were reported to people in authority at football clubs and responses were rarely competent or appropriate.


Whilst physical and sexual abuse of children and young persons in sport is a reportable criminal offence, at present bullying, emotional abuse and verbal abuse are only addressed by Guidance under the Regulated Activity Umbrella   and at present no individual or organisation can be held criminally accountable for such behaviours under the current safeguarding framework. Despite this, no sport or anybody working within it wants to find themselves facing allegations of abuse of any nature and the importance of a robust and well thought out safeguarding process cannot be over stated. It should also  be remembered that civil claims arising out of behavioural  allegations can be brought both against individuals, clubs and governing bodies. We will be carefully monitoring the position to see if safeguarding legislation is considered over the coming months.

We have reached a  significant milestone in the sporting world and the findings and recommendations of both of these reports will be relevant to all sports moving forward. The final Whyte Report is expected in August 2021. Clearly mistakes have been made in the past by both governing bodies and the independent reviews highlight this and  the need to have a full and proper safeguarding regime in place at all levels of sport to protect people and young people. 

We have a team of lawyers from across different disciplines at Gateley that can provide strategic support in relation to all aspects of safeguarding, from the preparation of policies and procedures to advice on the employment law implications of any investigation.

To assist organisations in ensuring they are fulfilling their safeguarding requirements we have developed a “Safeguarding Toolkit”. Get in touch with our experts or visit our safeguarding page to find out more.

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