Jayne Molyneux, Director of Children and Young People for Sport England, was one of the high profile speakers at the launch of the new Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport.

A new research centre on safeguarding in sport has generated hope for real change.

Edge Hill University’s new Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS) will focus on the prevention of abuse, exploitation and maltreatment in sport and will promote the positive welfare of those who take part in sport; sitting at the forefront of national and international research and education on a range of safeguarding and welfare issues in sport.

At the inaugural conference Karen Leach, who hoped to swim in the Olympics for Ireland, talked about the sexual, emotional, physical and mental abuse she was subjected to by her coach from the age of 10.

In an emotional speech, Karen said: “You will never know the pain, until it comes to your door. We are the reminder, we’re here to tell the truth.

“It’s too late for my life; others who have been abused have contacted me to say as long as I keep speaking out, organisations and governments will never be able to forget about us, or what has happened to us.”

Karen Leach sends a message to those who may be experiencing abuse and praises the centre’s ambitions.

Speaking at the launch, which attracted more than 80 delegates from organisations including NSPCC, Sport England and the European Commission, Karen questioned how much the world of sport had changed since her childhood and highlighted the approach of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“We’ve got the Olympics coming this year, is anyone talking about safeguarding? No, it’s all about winning. I don’t think that’s acceptable anymore. Children are still being abused, it has not gone away, it is real, it is happening today in 2020,” she added. “It’s time for change.

“I have great hopes for this centre, that we can do so much in the world of safeguarding and in the world of sport to help others.”

Karen Leach gave an emotional talk at the launch of the new centre.

The new CPSS centre is the product of nearly 20 years of research and there is a diverse range of expertise on athlete welfare, safeguarding in sport and more, provided by its cross-departmental team which includes Dr Mike Hartill and Dr Melanie Lang, Centre Director and Assistant Director respectively.

Dr Hartill explained that the centre will aim to improve the quality and extend the quantity of research evidence in this field, for the benefit of those who play sport and those who deliver, manage and govern sport.

“We intend to build on the many relationships we have established over the past two decades,” Dr Hartill said, “and we very much look forward to building new national and international partnerships and collaborations.

“Our launch event attracted a number of individuals with personal experience of abuse in sport, as well as police officers, local authority officers, national governing bodies in sport and representatives from professional sport organisations.

“It illustrated some of the international collaborations and projects we are already involved in as well as our persistent focus on working with those who have experienced abuse, harassment or exploitation in sport, as children or adults.”

Dr Mike Hartill, director of the new centre.

Dr Lang added: “CPSS members have won prizes for their research, advocacy and professional activities. Collectively, this combination of cutting-edge knowledge, professional contacts and high-quality research and consultancy will enable CPSS to make a significant and sustained contribution to the welfare of children and adults in and beyond sport.”

Gloria Viseras, a campaigner and advocate for safe sport, and former gymnast with experience of sexual abuse, also spoke at the launch event and said she had “very high expectations” for the centre.

Campaigner Gloria Viseras sits on a stool leaning against a small table and smiles at the camera.
Gloria Viseras, former gymnast, and campaigner and advocate for safe sport.

“Safeguarding work must be research- and evidence-based and that’s why the creation of this centre is so important.

“I’m very grateful to those who have created this centre – Mike Hartill has been so supportive to me – I have learned so much from them and they do such fantastic work.”

Jayne Molyneux, Director of Children and Young People for Sport England, added: “Enjoyment is the most important thing for children in sport; safety is part of that.

“We need to make sure everyone taking part in sport and physical activity is safeguarded physically and mentally, and they need to know where to go if they’re worried or concerned, and know that they will be listened to.

“We need to listen to people with lived experience so the experience they went through never gets repeated.”

Working alongside individuals directly affected by abuse will be central; in addition, an external advisory panel will ensure the centre’s work is informed by those actively working in safeguarding.

To find out more about the CPSS or the cross-departmental team – which includes Leon Fraser (Faculty of Education), Sarah Hunt, Dr Jimmy O’Gorman and Dr Laura Purdy (Sport & Physical Activity), Dr Michelle Jones and Nick Ashley (Social Sciences), and Paul Rimmer (Faculty of Health) – visit https://sites.edgehill.ac.uk/cpss/