It couldn't happen in cricket.

The sports news pages recently have contained some disturbing stories. Last week, it was an alleged assault on a player in an under 9 hurling game. By a non playing participant. You might need to read that again, but sadly the story won't be any different on rereading. A little while back, a "mentor" was handed a length ban having entered the field of play at a youth Gaelic football game and whalloped the referee, who needed hospital treatment. Mentor - an experienced and trusted advisor. Indeed.

It couldn't happen in cricket.

Jen Hogan wrote an excellent article earlier in October in The Irish Times. A quotation from the article tells you all you need to know. "We nearly lost our boy to men who needed the under 12 win to make them feel they were great". The article garnered a huge online response as parents told their tales of children left on the sideline of GAA and football pitches (primarily). It made for uncomfortable reading. The article is only available online to the newspaper's subscribers at the moment but the follow up piece can be read below

It couldn't happen in cricket.

We must be fair though. The aforementioned incidents were both during Gaelic Games occasions, but these occurrences are not just confined to these codes. As the major participation sports, they are most likely to get publicity. We hear regularly that soccer has a crisis. Games need referees but with abuse being handed out to them on a weekly basis, there is a shortage of people who feel compelled to spend their free time on the end of abuse, both verbal and physical, from players, managers and even "supporters" and the referees at youth games seem to be a regular target.

It couldn't happen in cricket.

One of the most difficult stories in Irish sport in (relatively) recent times is that of swimming. A horror show which took place while the world watched but saw nothing. The award winning podcast "Where is George Gibney" which can be found on BBC Sounds, is not an easy listen. But it is required listening for anyone involved in Youth sport. The mistakes and cover ups, It couldn't happen in cricket, surely?

Enough of the comparisons with other sports I hear you say, we don't have this problem in cricket. Let's back up to Jen Hogan's piece, the premise of which was that, week on week, children are left on the sidelines with little or no game time. The inevitable result of which is that children lose interest and move away from not just that sport but all sport. All to feed the egos of adult coaches who run the team. Cricket of course is slightly different in that substitutes are rare, but think of the kid who doesnt bowl, because well, they aren't great and sure their batting isnt up to much either. Quick observation here, if you don't mind, they won't get any better by not implementing the skills the coaches are meant to be developing. The unsaid words, of course, are that the team might lose the game if they are handed the ball or asked to bat in an important situation. And then there is the league/cup (delete as appropriate) to consider. They might get a turn once the star players have ensured a victory is inevitable and once again, nothing can be learned from such situations. Not quite, the child is learning very quickly, unfortunately the lesson is about where they stand in the eyes of the coach.

Have you seen it? Not only have I seen it but to my shame I stand guilty of the charge. I remember the morning, the ground, the match and of course the child. I wish I could relive that morning. I hope though that I learnt from it.

At an AGM not that long ago, a senior playing member informed the gathering that "our kids need to learn to win". Really? For whose benefit? I wish I had asked for his lesson plan, it would have made enlightening reading.

So who are the beneficiaries? The star players, certainly, are happy. They get the chances week after week to hone the skills and of course, get better with the opportunity. Everyone gets a medal, but not everyone gets a turn. The clubs are big winners too, a bulging trophy cabinet always looks good on social media and it's a nice way to promote, well, themselves, I suppose. And those lovely coaches, a feather in their caps too, you would have to admit.

Youth cricket, like every other sport, is reliant on volunteers. Since 2007, youth cricket has exploded and clubs are stretched to handle the numbers. Volunteers have become absolutely vital in maintaining the growth of the sport.

The crux of any of the stories mentioned here is the importance of having the right people in charge of youth sport. But who are the right people to take charge of a cricket team?

Jim Bennett and Aideen Rice spent many nights running courses on child protection. These courses are not fun for the participants nor the tutors. The topic is difficult, demanding and essential. Not many laughs. Coaching tutors teach the theory and do a very good job on it. Child protection law ensures that adults with access to children are vetted, no one can argue that this isn't right and proper.

So the process is there, the pathway is there. Certificates in hand. Boxes ticked. Huge demand, barely enough adults, someone has to look after the kids. Will anyone do? Being qualified, certified and vetted does not necessarily mean that that person is a suitable coach for our children. It becomes the club's responsibility to ensure the right people are in charge, they will be those held responsible if things go wrong

It couldn't happen in cricket - only the naive and foolish would think that.