A recent inquiry into the Lawn Tennis Association has found that it missed repeated warnings about bullying and sexual abuse.

Daniel Sanders, who was Wrexham Tennis Centre’s former head coach, was arrested and jailed for 6 years in 2017 after eight counts of sexual activity with a player younger than 16. The warning signs that eventually led to his arrest were evident a number of years before. It was as early as 2012 that after a series of complaints, Sanders was suspended until an internal investigation cleared him of serious wrongdoing. These complaints included Richard Hughes, a former police chief inspector pulling his daughter out of Wrexham after he accused Sanders of bullying her. Clearly his sentiments were echoed by other parents, as after a meeting with them, Hughes spoke with Bob Moore, the director responsible for child safeguarding and informed him of his opinion that Sanders was a sexual predator.

Moore, despite giving Hughes his word that Sanders was not a paedophile has denied hearing a specific warning. Another tennis coach, former Welsh international Vicki Broadbent had also passed on repeated concerns about inappropriate behaviour to Tennis Wales and the LTA. In spite of these many warnings, and a culture of ‘bullying and abusive behaviour’, Sanders was able to continue to abuse and harass the children that he was responsible for. It also appeared extremely difficult for complaints to be brought forward as children would subsequently be ostracised by members of staff or threatened and bullied.

This type of abuse in many areas of sports is sadly widespread. At least 80 sports coaches have been convicted of child sexual abuse in the last two years since the Offside Trust was set up. The sheer volume was again highlighted as police said that they have received more than 2800 referrals relating to their investigation into historical sex abuse in football.

Sports coaches are in a position of power and authority and in cases of abuse they take advantage of this. This can often be through grooming, in which coaches will slowly gain the trust of their pupils in return for sexual favours. Victims can be encouraged to keep quiet about this through rewards and privileges or through threats and harassment, as referenced previously. As we have seen recently in the case of Sanders, an environment in which sexualised language was often used around young children was allowed to continue for much too long. This can, in part, be attributed to what has been described as a ‘laddish’ and ‘misogynistic’ environment, in which this type of behaviour is not just tolerated but encouraged.

The access that abusers have to children in the absence of parental presence creates an environment in which abuse can potentially become rife. It seems that staff members have turned a blind eye to obvious signs of exploitation and it is evident that better safeguarding procedures are required in sports clubs, to prohibit this from occurring. Understandably this betrayal of trust and breach of authority can have an extremely damaging effect on victims who have been abused.

At Farleys, we have represented individuals who have been victim to abuse during their time at sports clubs. If you would like to speak to someone confidentially about abuse you have suffered, please contact a member of our specialist Abuse Team on 0330 134 6430 or complete the contact form on our website.