Progress on improving rights for young footballers has been too slow and external regulation may be needed, MSPs have warned football authorities.
A Scottish Parliament committee is concerned about young players being stuck in exploitative contracts which do not pay them fairly.
The issue was first raised in a petition to the Scottish Parliament 10 years ago but the Public Petitions Committee said changes brought in by the SFA and SPFL have not solved the problem.
The committee wants to ensure under-16s are not required to sign multi-year contracts, along with monitoring to ensure all are receiving the minimum wage.
Convener Johann Lamont MSP said: “There is a huge power imbalance between football clubs and the young people who aspire to play for them.
“Football is a passion for many young people and an offer to join a club’s youth set-up may seem like a golden ticket.
“However, clubs trading in children’s dreams should not be hiding devils in the detail, such as contractual small print which too many young people and their parents or carers may overlook until it is too late.
“The committee welcomes some of the measures introduced by the SFA since our consideration of this petition began, but this progress has been painfully slow. After 10 years, the committee believes that time is up.
“A number of the issues in this petition are not simply about football, but the protection and welfare of our young people.
“Children under the age of 16 should not be expected to sign exploitative multi-year contracts and young players should expect to be paid at least the minimum wage for their work.”
A report released on Monday says that regulation or new legislation might be the only way forward.
The committee also said there had appeared to be breaches in the rules around children’s human rights in football, which the Children and Young People’s Commissioner should investigate.
Ms Lamont added: “We are also concerned that the current Children and Young People’s Commissioner is not prioritising this petition in his office’s work, despite agreeing with his predecessor that issues remain unresolved.
“We believe that the commissioner’s office still has a critical role to play in ensuring the rights of children involved in youth football are not overlooked.”
Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA chief executive, said: “The work undertaken by the wellbeing and protection team in providing professional support and guidance across all levels of the game has been extensive.
“We are also fortunate to have strategic oversight from a highly experienced Independent Wellbeing and Protection Advisory Board which is chaired by Jackie Brock, CEO of Children in Scotland and author of the Brock Report, who was commissioned previously by Scottish Government to review Scotland’s system for safeguarding of vulnerable children.
“It is also important to acknowledge failings. The well-documented lapses in PVG checking within the Scottish Youth FA was a sharp reminder of the need to have more robust policies and procedures in place for monitoring our affiliate bodies and the subsequent board directive issued has been successful in ensuring best practice across the recreational game in this regard.
“Scottish football is a tremendous source for good, with a social return on investment to the country estimated at over £1 billion in a recent Uefa-commissioned study.
“Its journey of improvement is ongoing but I am pleased that the committee has validated the tangible progress made during the span of the petition and the level of priority that this area now has within Scottish football.
“We would welcome ongoing dialogue with the committee and reiterate our invitation to the chair, Johann Lamont, and the committee to discuss progress with our wellbeing and protection department and advisory board.”
Neil Doncaster, SPFL chief executive, added: “Today’s report recognises the enormous amount of vital work carried out by all 42 SPFL clubs in close partnership with our colleagues at the Scottish FA.
“As a sport which harnesses and nurtures the passions of hundreds of thousands of young people throughout Scotland, football rightly places an overwhelming priority on ensuring they can play and learn in a safe and supportive environment.”