Child Sexual Abuse In The Game

In Mid-November 2016, a sexual abuse scandal was revealed when former professional footballers renounced their rights to anonymity and spoke publicly about child sexual abuse which they had endured from former football coaches in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The initial 2016 allegations centred on abuse of young players at Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City due to the clubs’ associations with Barry Bennell who was convicted of sexual abuse in the US in 1994 and in the UK in 1998 and 2015. Consecutive allegations included a former Newcastle United youth coach, George Ormond, who was imprisoned in 2002 for offences against young footballers and a former scout, Eddie Heath, from the Chelsea football club. In addition, there were allegations that both clubs tried to cover up the abuses.

Allegations of abuse by coach Bob Higgins at Southampton were also made, and by 6 December 2016, in response to allegations from 350 individuals, The Football Association, several football clubs and 21 UK police forces had established various enquiries and investigations. Fifty-five professional and non-league clubs had been cited by people claiming they were abused.

In the 1990s, the Football Association was said to have reacted “dismissively” to worries about sexual abuse in the game, and was too slow to implement criminal record checks. In 2003, the FA had scrapped a project meant to ensure children were being protected from sexual abuse. The former sport minister Gerry Sutcliffe talked of his previous concerns on how the FA deals with governance of the sport and youth development and said that an independent body, such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, should look at the issue rather than the FA investigating itself.

When abuses like these arise after several years of silence and bursts like a sleeping volcano, one may take a step back and ask – How could we fail so miserably in hearing the cries of the ones that actually spoke out about it? How could the ears of so many people with the means of creating change, be so deaf for so many years? How could they brush off such allegations? Did we really need to reach internet and social media before someone could hear the voices of these victims? As much as internet and social media can provide fake news or awareness to other tricky challenges, there are things which, we, as citizens can do, to raise awareness and keep ‘powerful’ bodies accountable for their actions, or non-actions in this case.

The BBC reports that Ian Ackley, who was abused by a man with links to Manchester City, said his father’s calls for better protection “fell on deaf ears”. Mr Ackley continued – “This was pre-internet, pre-social media, when everything was handwritten and my father diligently wrote to anyone and everyone who he thought would be in a position of influence in order to affect this change. That was his real goal.”

The staggering surge in the amount of abuses and the number of high profile footballers bravely speaking out about the ordeal has finally caught the attention of the entire country. The children of yesterday can help the children of today and tomorrow to stand up to the horrific abuse, to have the confidence to open up about any sort of abuse that is happening, to name it and pursue justice. As a society, we need to be more open, more accepting, not shaming and blaming the victim but the perpetrator. Why should we accept sayings such as ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘she should have known better’? By not addressing this shameful way of looking at the world, generation, after generation; the children of tomorrow will have to face dire situations and unbearable consequences.

The United Nations reminds us that gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence. Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences. We must not stay silent in combatting gender-based violence in the game.

Bianca Madularescu is an Associate of the Centre of Diplomacy, Statecraft and International Security at LCILP. She holds an MA in International Liaison and Communication from University of Westminster and an MA (Hons) from University of Aberdeen. Her research interests include international relations, intercultural communication, human rights, climate change etc.

Reference: BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38242317

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