Skip to content

The importance of safeguarding

Our head of children and young people introduces the role of sport welfare officers, a key figure that'll work along those already striving to make sure clubs are inclusive spaces where people are active in a safe environment.

27th September 2023

by Jeremy Lemarchand
Head of children and young people, Sport England

Being active is not just good for our physical health. It has the power to do so much more!

It can, for example, reduce anxiety or stress and improve our confidence or self-esteem.

But when being active it’s important for us to feel safe and confident that our welfare is paramount. That’s why club welfare officers exist.

Club welfare officers are roles undertaken across clubs in England by incredible volunteers who make a vital contribution to community sport.

They are responsible for managing welfare issues and putting safeguards in place in their clubs.

They need to work carefully in a potentially sensitive area, so it’s no surprise that hands don’t always shoot up to take on the role.

But we’re planning to change that and we’ll know we’ve been successful when, as one national governing body of sport (NGB) pointed out, ‘it won’t be the last role filled at a club’s annual general meeting’.

The Whyte Review into British Gymnastics, published in July 2022, spoke to the safeguarding responsibility delegated to volunteers at a regional/local level.

When being active it’s important for us to feel safe and confident that our welfare is paramount. That’s why club welfare officers exist.

Consequently, Sport England published its policy response with UK Sport in January 2023, which included a proposal to fund a new, professional network of sport welfare officers across England.

A proposal grounded in our strategy, Uniting the Movement.

In June 2023, the plan became a reality when our board approved a new investment of £14.83 million from October 2023 until March 2027.

This support will create a network of up to 59 sport welfare officers, based in and employed by the network of 42 Active Partnerships who will promote good practices and safe sport.

But the investment itself is not the story of this blog.

The story is what took place between February and June of this year, and continues now, in order to get to that investment.

Since February I’ve created, led and continue to lead a project group of 28 colleagues from across the sport sector to co-design the sport welfare officers project.

I’m thankful to have the expertise of nine NGBs, six Active Partnerships, the Active Partnerships National Team, the Ann Craft Trust, the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit and five Sport England teams.

In case you’re wondering, we all get on great. The teams challenge but support each other and are driven by what’s best for the project.

I’m also especially thankful to have had expertise of the club welfare officers from three NGBs: Badminton England, British Triathlon and Table Tennis England.

They volunteered their time on sunny summer evenings (when they could have been at their clubs rather than at their computers) and I was grateful when they green-lit the project.

While club welfare officers work in their local clubs, the sport welfare officers will mentor and support club welfare officers of their respective Active Partnerships across their county (or sub-region).

They will bring club welfare officers from different sports together to share good practices, prioritise visits to local clubs or events and work closely with other sport welfare officers, NGBs and wider organisations.

They will also connect people working on welfare and safeguarding, both inside and outside sport, but they will not, however, manage cases.

That’ll remain the responsibility of NGBs.

To do this, the sport welfare officers will have relationship building and communication skills, and professional welfare experience.

They will receive support locally from their active partnerships and, centrally, from the Active Partnerships National Team.

They will contribute to a culture of good practice, with safer club environments for those taking part in sport.

In turn, those safer spaces will lead to inclusive, improved experiences for children and adults, and narrowed inequalities in sport.

At Sport England we are ready to step forward and create this change.

It won’t guarantee that club welfare officer roles aren’t the last ones filled in clubs across England, but what matters most is these incredible volunteers will be better supported and connected thanks to the sport welfare officers project, and we'll all be better for it.

Sign up to our newsletter

You can find out exactly how we'll look after your personal data, but rest assured we’ll only use it to make sure you receive our newsletter, to understand how you interact with our newsletter, and to provide administrative information about our newsletter.