Football clubs across Kent will be supported to help safeguard young players as part of a new agreement between the Kent FA and the Kent and Medway Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).
The VRU is a partnership between Kent Police, local councils, health service providers and other key agencies that aims to address the causes of violent crime and support those involved and affected by it.
With thousands of young people playing football in one of the county’s 30 leagues, the Kent FA’s member clubs have a unique opportunity to help identify those who may be vulnerable to criminal exploitation.
VRU manager Detective Chief Inspector Ben Loose of Kent Police said: ‘Whilst the vast majority of young people have healthy relationships within law-abiding friendship groups, there are unfortunately some who are targeted and taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals.
‘Football is an inclusive sport that attracts players from all walks of life, and it is therefore entirely possible that a club’s star striker or box-to-box midfielder may also be being forced to sell drugs, commit acts of violence or other criminal offences by people unconnected to the team after the final whistle has blown.
‘We are therefore looking forward to working with the Kent FA to raise awareness among its members of how to spot the signs that one of their players may be being groomed or exploited, whilst also providing the players themselves with advice on how to access support.’
One of the first events being organised by the VRU is a virtual briefing for club welfare officers, who will learn more about crime types such as county line drug dealing and who they should contact if they think one of their players may be at risk.
Lucy Kidd, Designated Safeguarding Officer at the Kent FA, said: ‘The Kent FA are pleased to be working alongside our statutory partners, Kent Police, to increase the scope of our safeguarding capabilities across football in Kent.
‘We look forward to working together to deliver education sessions, increase networking opportunities and protect young people in our county.’