Five rights issues for professional youth footballers

10 June 2015

The rights of talented young footballers aren’t always considered when they sign with a professional club, according to a new report from Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People.

The report, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee report in response to Petition PE1319: Improving youth football in Scotland, found cause for concern with regard to a number of rights in the UNCRC including:

Our report consisted of:

  • a children’s rights impact assessment around the current registration procedures for young footballers in Scotland
  • a research report looking at the views of young people around youth football in Scotland.

Impact of registration

In the Commissioner’s office, we recognise that being registered with a professional club can bring great benefits to a young person.

Young people who took part in our research enjoyed playing football and had a strong personal commitment to succeed, with most wanting a career as a professional football player. When they were registered with a professional football club, they tended to be very proud of the fact.

However, our report highlighted five ways in which registration may have a negative effect on young people’s rights:

1. Registration is complicated

At the moment, young people between 10 and 17 who sign with a professional football club must sign a Scottish FA Player Registration Youth form— or, if they’re under 16, get their parent or guardian to do so. It’s not clear, however, that young people or their parents take full account of the terms they agree to be bound by when they sign this.

2. Registration can be hard to cancel

Currently, players in age groups 10 to 14 have their registration automatically lapse at the end of a season. After this, they are supposedly free to sign for another club.

However, if a young player’s current club offers a chance to re-register and the player declines, their current club has the right to request their training costs are repaid. If other clubs are not prepared to cover this cost, a young person is unlikely to be able to move to them.

This can mean a 10 year old’s decision to sign to a club binds them to it throughout their years as a youth footballer.

3. Registration for 15-17 year olds is of a binding nature

A club decides whether players aged 15 and above should continue to be registered with them for the following season on their current registration form. No new registration document is signed, and the player has no say in the decision. This means that a young person can be tied into a three year rolling registration with one club with no say in the matter.

4. The terms of registration can be demanding

Several professional football clubs specify that young people registered with them can’t play in their school football team. Some clubs ban young people from playing any sports other than football.

5. Young players may not get support if they’re let go from their club

Currently, the youth football registration system doesn’t seem to provide support or encouragement to young people who aren’t kept on with a club. The young players we spoke to said they found being released from a club difficult. The event can be traumatic: young people spoke about other young players leaving performance review meetings in tears and being told to return all the used kit to the club.

A great investment

Our report concludes that while the current system recognises the investment of professional football clubs in developing young players, it does not always recognises the personal investment of the players and their families.

We think that a rights-based approach to youth football would go some way towards tackling this, and recommend that:

  • professional football clubs take greater account of young people’s rights
  • attitudes to professional youth football change to acknowledge young people in their own right, and not just in terms of investment
  • future changes to the youth registration process are informed by the views of young people who play professional youth football.

Find out more

Read our full report to the Public Petitions Committee about youth football.

See our infographic that illustrates the findings of our research with young people.