Scottish football bosses should be stripped of powers over young players to address a damaging “power imbalance” with clubs, a hard-hitting Holyrood inquiry has ruled.
Fed-up MSPs said “time is up” a decade after concerns were first heard at the Scottish Parliament over the welfare and rights of children.
The long-running probe looked at exploitative contracts and unfair pay, hearing from clubs and governing bodies the SFA and SPFL.
After repeated calls for self-regulation to protect younger players, politicians are now telling the Scottish Government to look at imposing external regulation.
“After 10 years of consideration, the committee is of the view that time is up,” today’s inquiry report by Holyrood’s public petitions committee warned.
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The report makes recommendations including one-year registration for 15 year olds, not just for players aged 10 to 14. The committee said no one under the age of 16 should be tied to a multi-year system. MSPs also said compensation should only require to be paid when a player signs their first professional contract.
MSPs acknowledged some progress, but stated: “While the committee welcomes these measures, it is of the view that the interests of children and young people can only be served by way of external, independent regulation of youth football in Scotland.”
Johann Lamont, who convenes the Holyrood committee, said: “There is a huge power imbalance between football clubs and the young people who aspire to play for them. Football is a passion for many young people and an offer to join a club’s youth set-up may seem like a golden ticket.
“However, clubs trading in children’s dreams should not be hiding devils in the detail, such as contractual small print which too many young people and their parents or carers may overlook until it is too late.
“The committee welcomes some of the measures introduced by the SFA since our consideration of this petition began, but this progress has been painfully slow.
“A number of the issues in this petition are not simply about football, but the protection and welfare of our young people.”
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All players at all levels have to be registered with the SFA to play regulated football in Scotland. Much of the committee’s problem has been in pinning down whether this acts as a contract or not, and what impact it has in tying young people to clubs.
The current system sees players aged 10 to 14 registering for a year. For over-15s, the duration can be three years.
The committee also said there had appeared to be breaches in the rules around children’s human rights in football, which the Children and Young People’s Commissioner should investigate.
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The SFA and SPFL welcomed the committee’s report in a joint statement, and said there has been significant progress in protecting children and young people.
They highlighted a “wellbeing and protection department” in the SFA overseen by an independent body, and a review of registration for players aged 15 to 17.
But they made no mention of the central threat to impose regulation on them.
Ian Maxwell, SFA chief executive, said: “I said on my first invite to parliament to speak to the committee that children’s wellbeing is central to all that we do at the Scottish FA and I wish to reiterate that commitment now.”
“As a sport which harnesses and nurtures the passions of hundreds of thousands of young people throughout Scotland, football rightly places an overwhelming priority on ensuring they can play and learn in a safe and supportive environment."