Football’s child sex abuse scandal: review finds ‘institutional failings’

An independent review into sexual abuse in football has found that the Football Association (FA) “did not do enough to keep children safe” and had “significant institutional failings”.

FA logo displayed at Wembley Stadium. Credit Reubenteg Wikimedia.

The independent review, commissioned in 2016 and led by Clive Sheldon QC, is 710 pages long and delivers damning evidence and condemnation of the FA’s behaviour between 1970 – 2005.

It offers 13 safeguarding recommendations to ensure that history is not repeated.

The inquiry began in November 2016 after former professional footballer Andy Woodward decided to waive his right to anonymity by going on record to document the abuse he faced at the hands of his coach, the now-convicted paedophile Barry Bennell.

Woodward went public in the knowledge that there were hundreds of other victims, many of whom never made it professionally in the game.

He was forced to retire from the game at 29 due to the lasting trauma of what he had experienced as a child.

Woodward’s public testimony led others to contact the police with the NSPCC and FA setting up a hotline specifically for the victims.

Within a week 860 calls had been received.

This led to police investigations across the country.

In response, the FA declared there would be an independent review into the child sex abuse that had occurred, led by Clive Sheldon QC.

Sheldon’s inquiry revealed that the FA had been unaware of any abuse prior to Bennell’s conviction in 1994.

It was clear that there was little to no guidance for child protection within the sport.

The reports says between 1995 – 2000, after the prominent convictions of child sex abusers the FA “could and should have done more to keep children safe”.

Following on from 2000, after the release of extensive child protection measures, the FA continued to make major mistakes, failing to suitably safeguard children.

The FA failed to put in appropriate measures to keep children safe in football at that time as keeping children safe was seemingly “not regarded as an urgent priority”.

The measures that were implemented were not done quick enough.

When incidents of sexual abuse and inappropriate sexual misconduct were reported to individual clubs, the authority figures present frequently mishandled the complaints due to a lack of competency.

The actual number of victims and perpetrators is expected to be significantly higher than found in the report, but at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors have been found.

Individual football clubs and staff were, for the most part, unaware of the abuse.

They were not aware of child protection issues, lacking training to appropriately deal with abuse or to spot signs of abuse.

If signs of abuse were spotted, they were frequently ignored.

Prior to the publication of the review, Manchester City, a club Bennell coached at, introduced a multi-million pound compensation scheme for victims of abuse at the club.

The report revealed that senior management at Manchester City were aware of allegations and rumours around Bennell’s behaviour as early as the 1980s.

Bennell is now serving a 34 year sentence following 5 sentences of child abuse against 22 victims.

It is thought that over a 100 individual victims have spoken out against Bennell.

The professional footballers, Andy Woodward, Chris Unsworth and Paul Stuart,have spoken publicly about abuse by Bennell.

Unsworth, a former Manchester City youth player, said that he had been raped by Bennell “between 50 and 100 times”.

Bennell is just one of eight perpetrators named in the report, with the abuse present from grassroots positions to Premier League coaches.

Ex-Chelsea player Gary Johnson was paid a £50,000 settlement that included a confidentiality clause to keep quiet about Eddie Heath, former chief scout, grooming him when he was aged 11.

Paul Collins, a former Charlton Athletic player, was also groomed by Eddie Heath.

Like Woodward, the trauma of the abuse forced Collins to retire from the game.  

In the report, Sheldon states that Chelsea should have taken steps to protect the victims who had disclosed abuse at the hands of Eddie Heath in 1975 and failed to react appropriately.

Sheldon has put forward necessary safeguarding recommendations to ensure that history does not repeat itself in the FA.

He recommends safeguarding training at every level of the game, from young players all the way to senior management, along with a recommendation of a safeguarding officer employed at all Premier League and English Football league clubs.

Sheldon said: “Survivors deserve to be listened to and their suffering deserves to be properly recognised… it is important that this terrible history is not repeated”.

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