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9 April 2021 | Podcasts | Article by Alan Collins

HJ Talks About Abuse: Update on Safeguarding in UK Wrestling

In October 2020, we discussed concerns regarding safeguarding in UK wrestling in our podcast, which you can listen to here.

At that time, a number of concerning allegations had been raised against coaches and professional wrestlers. Safeguarding was highlighted as a significant concern.

A number of high-profile wrestlers were released from their contracts as a result.

In September 2020, it was announced a group of cross-party MPs would launch the first ever inquiry into British Professional wrestling to consider how best to promote, support and improve the wrestling industry in Britain.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wrestling is co-chaired by Davies-Jones and Mark Fletcher. Other MPs involved in the inquiry include Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Paul Bristow MP, Ruth Jones MP and Connor McGinn.

Statements were invited to be submitted by anyone who wished to assist, be that wrestlers, event organisers or spectators.

The report was published on 8 April 2021. The report consists of 103 pages. There was a large focus on health and safety standards and protocols in respect of this.

However, one of the main catalyst’s for this report was in regards to the sexual abuse disclosures as part of the MeToo movement. We hoped there would be a large focus on safeguarding in respect of abuse, mandatory reporting and minimum standards for coaches with a focus on training schools.

Recommendations

  • Wrestling has fallen between the categories of sport and theatre, sometimes characterised as sports entertainment. The panel recommends that wrestling training schools be considered as ‘sporting’ and shows, promotions and associated activity be
    considered ‘theatrical’ or ‘artistic’ or ‘performative’, in respect of future guidance, legislation and regulation.

This will still leave problems of uncertainty where things  at times will fall between the gaps of both.

  • The minimum health and safety standards across independent wrestling in Britain is worryingly low. The parliamentarians have recommended a raft of measures most notably, enhanced requirements under the licencing and insurance arrangements
    wrestling companies have in place, and the adoption of concussion protocols. Signed PAR Q fitness forms, guidance from the Health and Safety Executive and minimum first aid training are also recommended.
  • Disclosure highlighted stories of sexual abuse, assault and predation. The report makes a number of recommendations in response to the movement, including hardwiring the voice of abuse survivors into British wrestling, the development of practical guides for first responders and working to establish case management systems to address allegations of abuse.

The committee suggest a wrestling-specific practical guide might be developed how to engage with survivors of abuse.

The report also states anyone accused of misconduct has a right to personal safety. To this end, they should obviously report to the police any illegal conduct.

Mandatory reporting would be desirable to prevent further undetected or covered up abuse by people in positions of trust.

  • Wrestling training schools have insufficient protections in place, particularly given they are regularly working with minors. The report recommends that, as is proposed under current legislation, sports coaches be recognised as a position of trust for the purposes of child sexual offences and that wrestling coaches be considered sports coaches for this purpose. A number of interim steps in relation to safeguarding and data protection are also proposed.

The report recommends that the law be amended to make sports coaches a position of trust for the purposes of child sexual offences, and that wrestling coaches be explicitly recognised as being in such positions of trust.  This would mean any coach having a sexual relationship with someone they are coaching under the age of 18 would be an offence. This is a huge positive step in the right direction to protect young athletes.

However, it is our position, again mandatory reporting should also be implemented.

The report also recommends that trainer-trainee relationships with those under-18 on social media be expressly prohibited by schools with immediate effect, that appropriate age segmentation be instituted for all training and continuous professional development be offered to coaches.

The report states, should they be able to unlock the status of training schools, this opens up options for discussions with Sport England (Scotland, Wales) and others about housing a DBS clearance system, and that this be an urgent priority once wrestling’s status has been agreed.

In the interim, the report recommends training schools immediately adopt NSPCC safeguards as standard.

A report considered a shared resource bank for schools would be a smart and easy measure to establish at speed, from pedagogy to professionalism and the APPG commits to holding a school’s summit at which they hope such a measure will be implemented. An inspection regime and industry-wide pro-card for graduates would also be advisable and is something they would seek to discuss at the summit.

  • The wrestling industry suffers from a lack of official representation, and the report recommends the establishment of trade bodies to more effectively promote British wrestling.
  • Other recommendations include a call for increased data collection about the industry, appropriate memorialisation of great British wrestling talents building on the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for Scotland, work to better understand the gender pay gap in wrestling, infrastructure to support wrestlers working overseas and better measures to accommodate visiting talent, and creating a safety standard for wrestling rings.

The report has clearly highlighted a number of worrying concerns regarding current safeguarding. How such recommendations will be implemented in practise and monitored is now the question.

The APPG Pledge in regard to running a wrestling show or training school as been set as follows:

When training, we will ensure coaches are fit to teach, including high standards of personal fitness, and trained in safeguarding. As a school, we will maintain rules on physical contact, anti-bullying policies, social media contact and we will train in age appropriate groups.

The full report can be viewed here.

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch. You can contact Alan Collins or Danielle Vincent.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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