Will lessons be learned?

Findings from the independent inquiry into one of the leading tennis centres has revealed the sport’s governing body, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), failed in their response to repeated warnings about bullying and sexual abuse.

The inquiry was commissioned by the LTA following the conviction of former Wrexham Tennis Centre head coach Daniel Saunders, jailed following his admission to eight counts of sexual activity with a player under 16-years. The inquiry report criticised both the LTA and Wrexham Tennis Centre, finding they had acted “inadequately” before Sunders was arrested and that they had failed to recognise safeguarding concerns.

In clear breech of safeguarding policy and practice, it is unthinkable that the extreme culture of ‘laddish behaviour’ Saunders created within the club, was not deemed a safeguarding risk, even after an internal investigation into his behaviour in 2012. It seems very odd that following the internal investigation, which found there were no child protection risks, clear glass was then installed to the window of Saunders’ office- presumably as a safeguarding measure? Sadly, Saunders simply covered the window in posters, using the office to later abuse his victim.

As a practitioner I find it unbelievable that the behaviours descried and reported by parents, which included coaches using sexually explicit language when on court with children, showing pornography to boys under the age of 12 and bullying of girls about their physical appearance (a parent reported that her daughter was called a “hefty elephant” and told that she (the girl) would “never get a boyfriend because of the way she looked”) were not taken seriously or addressed as abuse.

LTA chief executive, Scott Lloyd states lessons have been learned and that the LTA is “concerned that opportunities to act were missed” apologising to all those affected regarding this case. But one still has to seriously question the LTA’s action following the inquiry’s findings. Yes, a critical review of policy and strategy is essential, it always is following a serious incident, but what this case highlights is a failure to embed best safeguarding practice and have ongoing evaluation of that practice at its core. The actions of Saunders were abhorrent but so too was the culture he developed within Wrexham Tennis centre participated in by others.

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