FIFA Guardians™: a landmark step in ensuring the safeguarding of children in football

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FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura at the launch of the FIFA Guardians™ Child Safeguarding Programme and Toolkit in London on 10 July 2019 . [FIFA]

Millions of children all over the world are involved in football – and they have the right to enjoy the game in a safe environment and a culture of respect and understanding. With this firmly in mind, the world governing body of football FIFA has recently launched the child safeguarding programme FIFA Guardians.

“Today’s launch is a landmark step for FIFA and the world of football in general”, said FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura in her opening remarks at the FIFA Guardians launching event in London on 10 July. In the presence of UNICEF, the Council of Europe, the football community, activists and FIFA’s independent Human Rights Advisory Board, FIFA presented its new child safeguarding programme FIFA Guardians. Samoura emphasised that “FIFA has a duty and responsibility to ensure that those who play football can do so in a safe, positive and enjoyable environment. In realising our vision, we aim to ensure that involvement in football, in any form, is a positive experience for all children.”

With this new initiative, FIFA will provide practical guidance to support its 211 member associations in reviewing their existing safeguarding measures, to help prevent any risk of harm to children in football, and to appropriately respond if concerns arise. In collaboration with the six confederations, the programme will be rolled out in the coming months through a series of training modules and workshops.

Great responsibility and total commitment

The programme refocuses current efforts and sets guiding principles and minimum requirements on child safeguarding for all national football associations around the world. It outlines the position, role and responsibility of FIFA and clarifies what it expects of its members. FIFA will help to address the needs of its members and assist them in developing partnerships with expert agencies and statutory authorities on the ground.

“The toolkit builds on the confidential reporting structures and safeguarding frameworks FIFA already has in place, and provides clear and practical guidance to our member associations and their stakeholders”, explains FIFA Chief Member Associations Officer, Joyce Cook, who is spearheading the programme. “Whilst some member associations have well-developed policies and procedures in place, many others are just starting out on their safeguarding journey”, she adds. With the help of the programme, FIFA expects member associations and confederations to be able to develop their own policies, procedures and best practices.

Underpinned by recognised international standards and best practice in child safeguarding across sports, the toolkit is based on the premise that keeping children safe from harm is “Up to Us”, no matter the country we are from or the role we hold in football. “We understand very well that we want to grow the game, and with that comes a great responsibility to make sure children can take part safely. It’s easy to be passionate about this, but we really take this seriously, we are totally committed”, Cook points out. FIFA has recently also introduced more severe provisions for any form of sexual exploitation and abuse in its Code of Ethics and has a zero-tolerance policy on human rights violations.

Expansion of safeguarding efforts

The FIFA Guardians programme is part of FIFA’s overall vision to safeguard children, in line with its statutory requirement to respect all internationally recognised human rights and to promote the protection of these rights. It is also embedded in FIFA’s football development programme FIFA Forward, where member associations and confederations are obliged to “take measures to protect and safeguard children and minors from potential abuses and to promote their wellbeing within football”.

The concrete work on the FIFA Guardians toolkit started in early 2018, when FIFA and several key stakeholders established an expert working group to develop a child safeguarding programme. The working group includes child safeguarding and protection specialists from the Council of Europe, UNICEF, Safe Sport International, as well as safeguarding managers from FIFA’s member associations and the confederations.

The experts’ advice in an initial consultation had been that the first step should be to reinforce the safeguarding of the most vulnerable members of the football community – children. However, FIFA is already planning the next steps and the launched toolkit will lay the foundations for safeguarding all age groups across football. “The foundations of safeguarding run through the toolkit and programme in any case, but we will be following this up and launching modules and components that are specific to vulnerable adults within the game as well”, says Cook.

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