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Sport online – How to enjoy it safely.

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There was a time – not very long ago – when online connections within a sports club used to revolve around Facebook posts about what time the team bus was leaving.

Not anymore.

The coronavirus crisis has changed everything and with face-to-face sport mothballed for the time being, the virtual world is where it’s at.

Suddenly, coaching, fitness training, drills, skills and even dressing room humour is all online.

For anyone running a team, or for the parent of a home-locked child, this presents a number of issues that have to be considered along with all the new opportunities.

Is it safe?

Who exactly is talking to who? Who is ensuring that appropriate content is being posted or streamed? How can you protect the privacy of those joining these new sporting get-togethers? And how can you make sure that in looking for Joe Wicks – The Body Coach - your kids don’t unexpectedly stumble across something you wished they hadn’t.

All these safeguarding issues should be at the forefront of minds for governing bodies, clubs, and individuals – especially those involving contact with youngsters.

So, if you are a netball or rugby club trying to post online drills for your players to undertake in their homes, or a yoga group that have migrated from a gym to everyone’s living room, it’s vital that consideration is given to all the necessary protections.

A word from NSPCC

Laura Whapham – child protection in sport senior consultant for the NSPCC – admits: “Things have changed so rapidly in such a short space of time, that this is a very new area.

“But there are broad guidelines for this new situation in sport that we have adapted from education-specific guidance.

“There are obviously things to think about when you are engaging children online and the best advice is to ensure that parents are fully involved and giving their consent.

“If you are setting up something on Facebook, then you need to make sure all the children are over 13, because that’s the appropriate age to access Facebook.

“If they are not, then you need to work with parents and have the access through the parents’ profiles. You should also be making sure that you are not the only adult involved in the group.”

Technical info for parents

As far as possible, parents should try and check that the content their children are trying to access is suitable and the one that was intended.

Coaches need to be aware that free online platforms like YouTube or Facebook Live do not allow you to restrict the audience. 

They should make themselves aware of privacy settings and know beforehand how they are going to report and deal with any abusive or offensive content that may come their way.

Nor should they try and befriend a child on social media. Far better to set up all the contact through a dedicated club page.

Safeguarding is crucial

Equally, clubs and governing bodies need to give plenty of thought to the actual providers of the sessions if they are not their own regular coaches.

Are they qualified? What was the level of verification?

Has a risk assessment been done for the activity being undertaken and if there are any injuries among the group, how will those be managed?

It’s also essential that the usual safeguarding requirements apply – that the location for both coach and participant is safe and appropriate, that the right clothing and equipment is being used, and that any data being exchanged is not being shared without consent.

“The online world provides lot of opportunities for sports clubs that are not able to function normally at the present time, but the approach has to be cautious,” says Laura.

“No-one wants to over-police things in most circumstances, and it’s fantastic that people can still engage in sport, but we have to protect people as well and the same principles that were there before still apply.”

Top tips for clubs:

•Be guided by your club or governing body’s online safety policy.

•Have clear procedures in place so any concerns can be addressed.

•Make sure all coaches are aware of the current codes of conduct.

•Ensure the coaches are qualified and insured and appropriately recruited.

•When youngsters are involved, engage parents as fully as possible.

•Consider you have the right privacy settings for online group activities.

•Do the usual risk assessments.