Scotland politics

No checks on 2,500 youth football coaches

generic footballers Image copyright Thinkstock

About 2,500 coaches are working in youth football in Scotland without having full background checks, BBC Scotland can reveal.

Of the 15,385 coaches registered with the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA), 2,500 have not had Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) clearance.

The PVG checks are carried by Disclosure Scotland and search databases including criminal records.

The SYFA has now announced plans to tighten up procedures.

The organisation said any registered official who is participating in an 11-a side programme and has not submitted a current PVG application form by 28 February 2017 will be placed under an automatic precautionary suspension.

It comes amid a burgeoning child sex abuse in football scandal, which has led to the Scottish Football Association announcing it will establish an independent review of the "processes and procedures" in place both currently and historically in Scottish football.

About 4,000 PVG applications are processed every year by the SYFA, taking an average of 8-10 weeks to process at a total annual cost of between £25,000 to £30,000.

Image copyright Disclosure Scotland
Image caption THE PVG checks are carried out by Disclosure Scotland

The SYFA told the BBC there were around 90 PVGs waiting to be processed, which means there are around 2,400 coaches who have not even begun the application process yet.

Any official who has not yet completed the PVG process is classed as a provisional member and is not permitted to have unrestricted access to players.

For a person to become a fully affiliated youth coach they have to undergo a series of background checks including previous clubs and reference checks.

It is the individual club's responsibility to register the coach, and have them fill out the relevant forms to be PVG cleared.

'Automatic suspension'

Every month the SYFA sends reminders to Scotlands 41 youth football leagues to alert them to the numbers of coaches who remain to be PVG cleared.

The SYFA said that it planned to tighten up procedures.

In a statement, it said: "We have written to all league secretaries informing them that any registered official who is participating in an 11-a side programme and has not submitted a current PVG application form by 28 February 2017 will be placed under an automatic precautionary suspension.

"This may result in their team's fixtures being suspended until the team is fully compliant.

"In addition, teams participating in small-sided games programmes must ensure their officials are fully PVG compliant before the start of the season in March 2017. Failure to do so will preclude their participation in matches."

Image caption Allegations have been made against former youth coach Hugh Stevenson - pictured here in 1995, during his time at Ferguslie United - who died in 2004

More than 20 UK police forces - including Police Scotland - have confirmed they are investigating claims of historical child abuse in football.

Last week police chiefs said there were 83 potential suspects and 98 clubs involved across the UK.

Announcing on Tuesday that it would establish independent review, the SFA said it wanted to reassure people that football was a "safe and enjoyable environment for children", and to examine what lessons football can learn from historical allegations.

Last week, a BBC Scotland investigation revealed that former youth coach and referee Hugh Stevenson was allowed to carry on working in football for several years after being reported to police and the SFA over child sex offences.

And Jim McCafferty, a former youth coach who was the kit man for Celtic, Hibernian and Falkirk was arrested in Belfast after allegations were made against him.

Separately, allegations have also been made against coaches who were formerly involved with clubs including Motherwell, Partick Thistle and Rangers.

The allegations involve incidents said to have happened between the 1970s and early 1990s.

Anyone who may have been affected by abuse in football can contact Police Scotland or the specialist NSPCC helpline (0800 0232642)