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Safe Football Allies

Preventing harassment and abuse of elite youth football

Building on our previous work in the Safe Sport Allies bystander education program, we will now set up a comprehensive safeguarding education program within the Belgian elite youth football context.  The aim of the current project is to investigate if and how the Safe Football Allies bystander program may prevent harassment and abuse in Belgian elite youth football.


From until

Supported by

Oak Foundation

Tens of thousands of young Belgian boys and girls dream of becoming the next Tessa Wullaert, or Kevin De Bruyne. Football is Belgium’s number 1 national sport, with over 400.000 registered players, thousands of football coaches, club administrator, officials and parents run the hundreds of amateur and professional sport clubs and elite youth training programs to allow these children pursuing their dreams. Unfortunately, football is not immune to the endemic of harassment and abuse in our society. Research shows that young athletes on the elite pathway have an increased vulnerability to experience harassment and abuse from their coaches, peer athletes, parents, and entourage. Experiencing harassment and abuse in childhood leads to serious health impacts, decreases in sport performance, motivation, joy and participation, and impacts the child’s family, entourage, the sport organisation, and society as a whole. Although efforts are being made by the Belgian sport authorities and the four main football federations, the process of developing, implementing, and evaluating safeguarding policies has only recently begun. Indeed, up to date, tailored, evidence-based safeguarding programs for elite youth football are currently non-existent. The Safe Football Allies, therefore aims to address this current need.

Safe Football Allies project 

The previous Safe Sport Allies project proved to be promising in increasing knowledge, positive attitudes, and intentions to display positive coach and athlete bystander behaviours in sport. It remains to be tested, however, whether the program is effective in an adapted format to be delivered and implemented in the specific context of elite youth football. Consequently, Safe Football Allies aims to bridge this gap by developing a comprehensive bystander intervention within the Belgian elite youth football context. We hope the findings of this research will contribute to the development of a sustainable and impactful system that will be implemented in the current safeguarding structures to not only address but prevent cases of harassment and abuse in Belgian football and wider international sports community.


The main objectives of this project are:

  • To develop, implement and evaluate an evidence-based bystander intervention for youth elite football in Belgium;
  • To influence Belgian sport ministries & national football associations to adopt the program;
  • To design and deliver an international uptake strategy.

Project partners 


Jon Brain

Jon Brain (PhD) is a researcher of the People and Well-Being research group, research line Safeguarding Sport & Society.  As a Sport Psychologist he is currently participating in the Safe Football Allies project.


Karolien Adriaens

Karolien Adriaens (PhD) is a researcher in the People and Well-being research group, research line Safeguarding Sport & Society.  As a clinical psychologist she is working on  research projects on harassment and abuse in sports and child maltreatment


Tine Vertommen

Tine Vertommen (PhD) is research coordinator of Safeguarding Sport & Society  in the People and Well-being research group. As a criminologist she conducts research on the prevalence and prevention of harassment and abuse in sports.