Five hundred youth coaches barred in Scotland for failing to undergo vetting checks


The Scottish Youth Football Association has suspended 20 teams after disclosing that nearly 500 youth coaches have been barred after failing to undergo vetting checks.

The association’s chief executive, David Little, told MSPs in the Scottish parliament on Tuesday that 488 coaches had been automatically suspended from coaching after failing to apply for background checks.

In a further twist to a long-running dispute over youth coach vetting, a foreign news agency reported on Wednesday that 20 teams were unable to compete in the SYFA’s 39 leagues because none of their coaches are cleared.

Little told Holyrood’s health and sport committee, which is investigating allegations of historic abuse of youth players, that coaches who had not been vetted should have been working under the supervision of a senior official who had passed their Protective Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks.

Little told the committee: “They are precautionary suspended, that means they are completely debarred from participation in any football under the jurisdiction of the SYFA.” There is no evidence the suspended coaches are guilty of any offence.

Little’s admission about the suspensions came after a dispute between the SYFA and Disclosure Scotland emerged over a backlog of overdue background checks affecting a minority of its 15,000 volunteer officials and coaches.

Police Scotland said in December it was investigating more than 100 allegations of historic sexual abuse against children in Scottish football, as the scandal over unacknowledged abuse dating back decades in professional and amateur leagues across the UK erupted.

The SYFA admitted last month that nearly 1,000 officials and coaches who had remained running youth teams had not yet been vetted, causing consternation at Holyrood.

Little told the committee that the backlog had been cleared by the deadline of 28 February, but said the association was now dealing with 1,170 fresh applications for next season.

The committee also released a series of letters between the two organisations which showed Disclosure Scotland’s mounting frustration at the delays and the association’s apparent reluctance to accept help in reducing the backlog.

MSPs also published a letter to Little from Mark McDonald, the Scottish minister for childcare and early years, from 21 February asserting that Little had given MSPs an incomplete picture about the history of the dispute.

McDonald disputed Little’s evidence to the committee implying that the backlog had been due to a limit Disclosure Scotland placed on new vetting applications, and that processing them was very costly.

The minister said that limit only applied to retrospective applications for officials in post before 28 February 2011. In fact, there was no limit on the number of new applications or those made for volunteers in post after February 2011.

McDonald said the government provided free disclosure checks for the SYFA, and urged Little again to accept an offer from Disclosure Scotland for extra support clearing the backlog.

In a response to the minister, Little said the mistakes identified by McDonald were based on confusion with Disclosure Scotland but said the association had recruited another 239 volunteers around Scotland to help check forms and signatures.

He defended the decision to decline help. He said replacing those volunteers with government officials “would have sent the wrong message to volunteers doing exceptional work.”

Adding that the SYFA was increasing and updating its training and advice on child protection, Little added that the delays were largely down to clubs being too slow.

“The current backlog is only historical in that member clubs have not carried out their functions in a timely fashion,” he told McDonald. “SYFA have now tightened up procedures to ensure that PVG applications are submitted within the appropriate timescale. Noncompliance by clubs may result in fixtures having to be cancelled and children missing out on their football.”