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The Footballers Having Classes on Consent

03/04/2015 19:07 BST | Updated 03/06/2015 10:59 BST

By BBC Radio 5 live's Stephen Chittenden

Not many football clubs are too keen on journalists asking their young players questions about their off the field sexual antics. They're even less keen on the players actually answering. So it came as a total shock when Brighton and Hove Albion invited BBC Radio 5 live to do just that, at the club's swanky new training ground in Lancing.

In the press conference room, a group of younger players from the development squad were undergoing a different kind of training. Instead of tackling each other, they were taking on the tricky legal issues around sexual consent in a candid and highly confidential session. It is called the PIP program: protect, inform and prevent.

I had been expecting to sit in on the session and record the proceedings for radio broadcast, so was at first somewhat miffed at having the door shut in my face. There had been some sort of misunderstanding in the arrangements - such things are common. But when course tutor and psychotherapist Maggie Ellis came out to explain the sort of subjects up for discussion inside, I was rather glad not to be invited in. We don't normally do X-rated radio on 5 live, except when England play cricket.

Behind closed doors the players, aged in their late teens and early twenties, were being invited to describe their own encounters with the opposite sex. They discussed firstly how to read the signals sent out by potential sexual partners, both verbal and non-verbal, and then how to be confident when consent is and crucially is not being given.

Various scenarios were presented using a traffic light system. For example, if a woman has had so much to drink she can barely stand or speak, that is a clear red light - do not proceed. But the participants also verbally experience the 'amber' areas when they cannot be so sure either way.

It is as much about protecting themselves as the women they meet. Brighton and Hove Albion have experienced the disastrous consequences of having its footballers accused of sexual crimes. In 2013, three players and one ex-player, all innocent, were dragged through the courts before ending up at the Old Bailey to face false accusations of sexual assault in a Brighton hotel. All four were cleared, and the alleged victim's story discredited, but not until after lurid details and photographs had made their way around the courtroom and into the news.

The devastation to all sides which can be caused by an accusation of a sexual crime was made clear to the players during the session. A former detective with Sussex police put them through the kind of interrogation and explains the forensic examination that a man will face if accused of a sexual crime. These shock tactics seemed to work on the players who spoke to me afterwards.

One of them Chike Kandi told me: "They really narrowed down that grey area between consent and non-consent, to one moment, or one point in an interaction, when you can definitely ask the question. And if the answer's yes, then it's ok and if it's no then you back off."

Given the number of times footballers' antics have landed them in the news or courts, you realise training sessions like this are no bad thing. Perhaps more clubs will follow Brighton's lead. Either way the club's management deserves a big pat on the back firstly by setting up the program for their youngsters, but even more for doing it so openly by inviting the media in to ask questions.

To a non-footballer the content of these sessions might seem little more than common sense, but the law on consent has changed. More pertinently, only professional footballers possess that potentially dangerous combination of youthful energy, spare time, a high profile and a fat pay packet. As Maggie Ellis told them, "We can't tell you what to do, that's up to you. But we do want to help you think."

Hear Stephen's report for BBC Radio 5 live here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02n928j