Parents of junior footballers across the United Kingdom have expressed concerns over their children’s information and locations – some as young as seven years old – being publicly available on the Football Association’s Full-Time FA website.
The Football Association use the Full-Time FA website as a way of teams at all levels of English grassroots football to track and record their seasons. This includes full team sheets of each club’s registered players, locations of their upcoming matches and past results and players involved.
For the countless senior football organisations in the United Kingdom that proves no problem, but a sizeable number of junior football leagues have also been guilty of having this information present.
During our investigation into the matter, in checking 213 junior leagues across the UK, a total of 43 leagues were uncovered with information available of youth footballers between the ages of seven and twelve. A further 41 leagues had information of players from under-12s to under-16s present.
If we were to assume each of these leagues had five division (a very generous estimate for some, which had closer than twenty or thirty) and eight teams a division that could be as many as 40,000 children’s names and locations present publicly on the Full-Time FA website.
Back in 2015, the FA released figures to suggest 3.35 million children aged between 5 and 15 years old play football. From the information gathered and our conservative estimate, that would still mean as many as 1% of all junior footballers in the United Kingdom have their information available online.
When asked about this potential safeguarding breach, one parent, who wished to remain anonymous, heavily involved in youth football with her three sons, said: “I think it’s very scary. Any poor practice to safeguarding children in football is unacceptable and should be treated seriously.
“You would like to think that when you are sending your kids to training or their matches that they are in a safe environment and protected from any poor practice.”
The way information is inputted into the Full-Time FA website involved coaches or representatives of clubs manually putting this information onto the website, and a lot of clubs do adhere to good safeguarding practice and omit this information for young footballers.
Similarly, most of the county football associations around the United Kingdom have designated safeguarding officers for issues to be flagged with, yet given the widespread scale of this information being online it seems as if issues like this one on the website may have slipped under the radar in certain areas.
“I think it’s very scary. Any poor practice to safeguarding children in football is unacceptable and should be treated seriously.
Asked what experiences and knowledge of safeguarding practices she had within her own experiences as a parent of young footballers, she added: “I think it has progressed, but more still needs to be done.
“We, as parents, know the correct procedures at my child’s club if we want to complain or report anything, but I’m not sure the children do.
“Different clubs seem to do different things, it needs continuity from the FA to improve and progress, and for clubs and leagues to have some sort of regulation and fines to make sure these policies are implemented and abided by.”
One under-9s coach and parent in a junior league in Shropshire, Peter Mort, explained to us that coaches are told by the FA guidelines not to track results of games for under-11s – which seems to be adhered to across almost all the leagues – but it appears as if that the information present in upcoming fixtures (including upcoming locations and names of children registered to the team) has gone unnoticed.
It was discovered during our investigation that, in principle, somebody within just five clicks from a search provider – with little more than searching the name ‘Youth’ and guessing a league at random – could find the location and names of players involved some upcoming youth football games around the country.
The Football Association have been contacted for a response, but we are still awaiting their reply.