The chief executive of the Scottish Football Association has told Holyrood the sport’s governing body will review registration rules involving young footballers amid fears some are being exploited.
Ian Maxwell was giving evidence on the Scottish Parliament’s longest-running petition, which was submitted by William Smith and Scott Robertson in March 2010 and looks at improving conditions and pay for youth footballers.
Smith has been highlighting the issue for almost a decade, saying the petition is about rectifying abuses of children’s rights in Scottish football.
He says young players are being held at football clubs against their will because of registration processes that were in place ten years ago.
“There’s lots of issues tied into this whole system that are all designed to either, a, make money for a club and by means of compensation or in other words to save them money by not paying a wage and the club hold the right to cancel that registration even a day into it,” said Smith.
“The evidence is overwhelming against the SFA, against the SPFL and against the professional football clubs in this country.”
Committee convener Johann Lamont said the pace has been “worryingly slow” on the petition and she asked Maxwell if he feels there has been “reluctance” from the SFA to engage with it.
Lamont also highlighted accusations that people within the SFA are attempting to “sit out” the petition by allowing the process to continue quietly for a long time.
Maxwell rejected both suggestions.
“I can only talk about my time in post and I’m more than happy that this is reviewed. I don’t want to comment on whether this is being sat out or not because I don’t think that’s appropriate for me since I was in post,” he said.
“I’m absolutely committed to reviewing the regulations and taking the concerns of the committee on board,” he added.
Campaigner Leigh McLevy, who is working alongside Smith to highlight the issue, said the Scottish Government is looking to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law
“However, this year it is looking like it might become that; in which case they (the SFA, SPFL and Scottish member clubs) will be fundamentally in breach of the law,” she added.
In August last year, the SFA published a new child well-being strategy entitled “Getting it right for every child in Scottish football”, which takes its lead from Scottish Government framework.
Maxwell said a working party has been established look specifically at the registration rules in relation to 15,16 and 17-year-olds. The group’s first meeting will take place on February 26 and will investigate whether the current regulations are viable.
He also said there will be a meeting between representatives of the SFA and Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner following the committee hearing, to discuss issues related to the petition.
At a rain-swept Hillwood Park in Glasgow’s southside on Wednesday evening, young footballers were out training in the driving rain.
They have dreams of making it professional one day but say they are worried about the current contract situation.
One player, Lewis, said: “It’s a good opportunity but I don’t know if I would be alright signing a three-year contract because you don’t have any freedom basically.”