A successful year for the FIFA Guardians Safeguarding in Sport Diploma

24 January 2022 marks the fourth edition of the United Nations International Day of Education, established to celebrate the role of education in peace and development. Sport in general, and football in particular, naturally have a part to play in the fair and inclusive education of every child. With football being part of the lives of millions of children around the world, it is vital that it teaches them, among other things, the values of discipline, team spirit and solidarity in a safe and secure environment.

FIFA is committed to bringing about child protection at all levels of football and, to that end, created the FIFA Guardians™ Safeguarding in Sport Diploma in partnership with the Open University. This educational pathway not only enhances the protection of children, but also that of other at-risk groups, such as young elite players, women, LGBT players and people with disabilities, against all forms of harassment, abuse and exploitation. Initiated in January 2021, this educational initiative has accomplished a great deal in its first year.

For the first online course, launched on 28 January 2021, more than 3,000 digital learners registered from member associations, confederations, regional associations and from the football family in general. Thanks to the webinars and other educational resources made available to them, learners from member associations were able to become familiar with the tasks and various responsibilities involved in the role of a safeguarding professional in football.

"An underestimated but vital area"

After being involved for several years in safeguarding programmes in the United Arab Emirates, first in the Pro league and then at the federation, Shane Jones was among the first group to sign up for the course. "The programme is brilliant and offers credibility to people working in the underestimated but vital area of child protection in sport," the now Senior Strategy Specialist at the UAE’s Football Association, where he manages the implementation of its Vision 2038 strategy, told FIFA.com. "My current role is to oversee and support the implementation of a wide range of innovative projects and programmes to develop Emirati football, including safeguarding."

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Aminath Siyana from the Maldives Football Federation, gave a similar assessment after participating in the various courses that make up the Diploma over the last year. "After taking the first course, I realised how important it is to focus on the protection of children in football," says the Safeguarding Officer at the Maldives Federation, who is also an instructor at its girls' academy and a coach with the women's national team. "This course allows me to focus more on that, especially in my work at the academy. I didn't know much about this topic before, but I’ve learned a lot about it and would like everyone to take an interest in it."

And there is now a better chance of that happening, with the programme’s training and pedagogical resources accessible not just to people working within football bodies (FIFA Learners), but also to those, paid or volunteering, who are directly or indirectly involved in the game (Global Football Community Learners), and to all those concerned about the issue or wishing know more about safeguarding of children in sport (Open Learners).

All the football family invited

In other words, anyone participating in the game can get involved with this project. At its core is the protection of children from all forms of harassment, abuse and exploitation, something that concerns every member association and confederation, and everyone in the football community. "Thanks to the Diploma, I came to realise that safeguarding is not just about protecting children, but also about educating coaches, staff and all those involved in football by explaining to them what is good practice and what is not. If people take the safeguarding course, they can avoid mistakes."

"Ever since the initiatives to protect children in football began in the UAE, the Pro League has been working closely with the Ministry of the Interior through the Child Protection Centre, while the Federation has been working with the Ministry of Community Development," adds Shane Jones, who says that the content of the Diploma is not only theoretical, but fits perfectly in the application of his day-to-day work. "Both entities provide local support and advice on UAE child protection regulations, conduct staff background checks, and set up mechanisms for reporting abuse in UAE clubs and academies. This programme highlights the opportunities for collaboration between local stakeholders to ensure child protection in football."

The primary beneficiaries of this educational pathway proposed by FIFA are obviously the children themselves and their families. Aminath Siyana saw concrete proof of these positive outcomes at an event held on an island near Male, the Maldives capital. "We organised a football festival for the girls of the island, so before the event, I met with the parents and told them about the prevention programme and how it protects children," she says. "They were really surprised that we took care of their children in every possible way, and how much store we placed on player welfare. They told me that their children also played other sports, but that they’d never heard of anything like that."

AMMAN, JORDAN - JANUARY 25: Girls pose for a group picture during a FIFA Grassroots schools program on January 25, 2019 in Amman, Jordan. (Photo by Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Leading by example for other sports

"Regardless of the country, one very important thing to consider when working in the field of child protection is to ensure that access to knowledge, resources and reporting mechanisms is available to everyone involved in the game," adds Jones, who, in the case of the UAE, has faced the challenge of making these resources available in Arabic and English. "The FIFA Guardians team has helped us a lot by guiding us on the best ways to approach this."

So, can football and the FIFA Diploma pave the way for other disciplines? "I really want more people to take the course, and not just those in football. Other sports need to follow the example of football and work to put a policy like this in place," said Aminath, who launched the Safeguarding Programme in the Maldives in August 2021. "I’m really delighted to be part of this programme, and I thank FIFA for giving me this chance," she concluded.