In the wake of what has been classified as the Football
Association's ("FA") biggest crises
to date, police have been flooded with reports from further victims
coming forward to report abuse. Investigations have begun into
allegations against football coaches for historic child sex abuse
against footballers in youth teams dating back to the 1980s.
In mid-November, former footballer, Andy Woodward, came forward
to report the sexual abuse he faced as a young player. Following
this over 20 former footballers including Steve Walters, David
White, and Paul Stewart elected to waive their right to anonymity
in order to report harrowing accounts of the sexual abuse they
suffered in their youth. To date, it is reported that police have
now received over 250 calls regarding historic child abuse at the
hands of prominent FA personalities. This has now spiralled into a
national investigation and, depending upon the findings, could have
grave consequences throughout the sporting world.
At the heart of the child sex scandal is Barry Bennell, a
respected youth coach during the 1980s and 1990s, convicted for sex
offences against children in 1994. He then pleaded guilty to 23
specimen charges and was jailed for those offences in 1998, and
jailed once again in May 2015 for sexual offences against a 12-year
old boy in 1980. Bennell is now facing further claims of child sex
abuse which, if made out against him, will inevitably result in a
significant custodial sentence.
The reports have led to the launch of a criminal investigation
by 20 police forces, including the Metropolitan Police, and an
internal investigation into the FA itself. The concurrent
investigations will pertain not just to the individuals alleged to
have sexually abused young players, but more importantly, into the
systemic failure of football clubs to prevent abuse from occurring.
Reports have surfaced claiming that key personnel at clubs such as
Crewe Alexander FC, Chelsea FC and Manchester City may have known
about the alleged abuse, and paid young players vast sums of money
in exchange for their silence regarding their abuse.
The key focus of the FA's internal review will be to
ascertain exactly what the FA and individual clubs knew at the
relevant time of the alleged abuse, and what action was or should
have been taken. It is likely that the findings of this review will
lead to an overhaul of current child protection policies that are
implemented not just at football clubs, but at sports facilities
across the board.
In the UK, sports clubs are currently under no obligation to
report allegations of sexual abuse to the police for further
investigation. The government, in the summer of this year, launched
a consultation on making it mandatory for sports clubs to report
claims of abuse to the police. It is possible that the FA's
findings will lend support to the notion of mandatory reporting, as
well as increasing the obligations on sports bodies to enforce
child protection policies throughout their national clubs.
As well as the inevitable criminal penalties that individuals
will face if found guilty of historic sex abuse against young
footballers, football clubs should brace themselves for an
onslaught of compensation claims from victims who claim to have
been "paid-off" to maintain a silence about their alleged
FA chairman Greg Clarke has stated that "football was
asleep to the issue of child sex abuse in 1990s". Results of
any investigations are likely to involve significant
recommendations as to how to enhance the safeguarding of children
across the sporting world. The focus will be to close any loopholes
that currently exist and to act pro-actively, preventing the
re-occurrence of a scandal of this nature in the future.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).