There are more than 18,000 children and young people playing regular rugby in Wales at more than 200 community clubs and associations. These young people rely on an army of volunteers to act as coaches, referees and officials in order to achieve their full potential. While fully acknowledging the many thousands of hours these volunteers put into the grassroots of rugby in Wales, as the largest sports governing body in Wales, the WRU is determined to continue to lead by positive example when it comes to safeguarding children in sport.
Over the past two years, the WRU Child Protection Unit has run courses, training days and workshops and encouraged everyone with direct access or responsibility for children or young people in rugby to complete a Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) disclosure.
Over 1,500 CRB disclosures have already been completed, while the majority of the WRU's 241 clubs and some Welsh Districts Rugby Union clubs have nominated child protection officers to ensure these important policies are respected by coaches and helpers.
While the WRU is pleased with its success to date, it today (Wednesday) announced a move to make it compulsory for all those in direct contact with children and young people in rugby to complete a CRB disclosure, and to complete the online child protection course, developed for the WRU website.
The measure will come into force on January 1 2009, which gives clubs five months to comply with the new rules.
From that time, any person who is subject to the WRU's jurisdiction who hasn't undergone training and completed a CRB disclosure will no longer be allowed to work with persons under 18. Individuals at fault will be suspended and action will be taken against clubs who fail to get their volunteers properly checked.
WRU Group Chief Executive Roger Lewis said, "Rugby is a sport that brings our communities together and defines us as a Welsh nation. As such, there is a need to protect, nurture and safeguard our children and young people and while we recognise the importance of volunteers to community rugby in Wales, it is also essential for clubs to realise that they could be held responsible if any child were to be put in danger in any way.
"Completing a CRB Disclosure is an easy but very important process to ensure that all our children can continue to take great pleasure from playing rugby in a safe environment and the support and training provided by the new online course supplements that step."
WRU Child Protection Consultant Mark Williams-Thomas said, "This is a massive forward step in the safeguarding of children taking part in rugby activities in Wales and the WRU is leading from the front where Welsh sport is concerned.
"CRB checks are a vital first step in ensuring children can enjoy sport safely by weeding out people with convictions that would make them unsuitable to work with children."
Steve Boocock, NSPCC Director of Child Protection in Sport said, "We welcome the WRU's ongoing support and commitment in strengthening child protection across its Welsh clubs.
"Children should be protected from harm and organisations responsible for children's activities should take all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of children and young people under their care. This includes requiring all staff and volunteers to undertake CRB checks and to be aware of what to do if they have a concern.
"We are pleased that many sports organisations in Wales support the movement towards protecting children in the community. For more information on what steps can be taken to protect children in organisations please contact NSPCC Cymru/Wales on 02920 267000 or visit www.thecpsu.org.uk."
Sports Council for Wales chair Philip Carling said, "We need to do everything we can to encourage young people to take part in sport and they need to be able to participate within a safe and fun environment.
"The safety of children - and vulnerable adults - is crucial and the Sports Council for Wales is glad to see that the WRU is making strides in this area."
Wales captain Ryan Jones has been the WRU children's champion since the policy was launched, appearing on the DVD produced to support the child protection training days and via video clips on the WRU online child protection course.
He said, "I benefitted hugely from junior club, district and youth rugby as a youngster learning the ropes and I'm forever grateful to all those coaches, team managers and match officials who gave up their evenings and weekends which enabled me and my friends to play rugby," said Jones.
"I believe the WRU's push to improve the structures in place for youngsters will also help all those volunteers by giving them extra protection, training and confidence to help them in their roles."
Elaine Cloke, Legal and Investigations Manager for the Children's Commissioner for Wales said, "Keeping Wales' children and young people safe is something we must all take seriously and we welcome any policies which help protect them from harm and provide reassurance for guardians and parents."
Deputy Minister for Social Services, Gwenda Thomas said, "This is a welcome move from a leading sporting body in Wales and sets a good example for others to follow. The combination of rigorous CRB checks and online training in child protection procedures provides a higher level of safeguards for children and young people playing rugby."
The WRU Child Protection Unit has in the past 12 months investigated 25 cases, ten of which are currently ongoing with three individuals on interim suspensions. Three people have also received permanent suspensions for offences against children.
Williams-Thomas explained, "CRB Disclosures are responsible for 75% of these cases coming to light, emphasising the importance of the checks.
"The WRU Child Protection Unit undertakes a risk assessment on every 'positive' CRB check which may mean it contains a warning, conviction or intelligence that a person was arrested or investigated for an offence which may impact on working with children or young persons.
"A positive check will not necessarily exclude a person from being involved in rugby but will mean further investigation into the case."
Online Child Protection Course
The WRU takes the training of everyone involved with children and young persons very seriously and acknowledges that getting people together, even for a few hours can be very difficult. Therefore it has for sometime been looking for a solution to train through distance learning.
To that end, an online Child Protection and best practice training package has been developed to meet the WRU's requirements in this area. The course provides an interactive and intuitive learning experience for its applicants through reading materials, questions and answers, instant feedback, video and audio clips and step-by-step instructions.
The course provides a highly efficient way of delivering child protection guidance to thousands of applicants. The course is designed specifically for the Welsh Rugby Union and contains videos of WRU Children's Champion Ryan Jones who re-enforces the learning outcomes. The course is available directly via the WRU website (www.wru.co.uk/childprotection).
What next for clubs?
- Any club who has not yet nominated a child protection officer should do so now by contacting Catherine Lumb at the WRU Child Protection Unit on 029 2082 2442 / email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Club Child Protection Officers can request CRB Disclosure application forms for their club volunteers by contacting the WRU Child Protection Unit as above