Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Football club needs to take a harder line

Editor's Viewpoint

Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly was guilty of a disgraceful and illegal act, sharing an indecent photograph of him having sex with a 16-year-old girl. It was a gross betrayal of the young girl's trust in him - the court was told she had asked him to delete the photograph - and caused her horrendous embarrassment and humiliation.

Donnelly, who was jailed for four months although he is appealing the sentence, passed the photograph off to a social media platform containing members of his Cliftonville football team and it was subsequently leaked on to Facebook causing the girl to receive numerous texts and have abuse shouted at her on the street.

While there is no excuse for what Donnelly did at least through his guilty plea he spared the girl the trauma of having to appear in court and has been punished for his actions.

However, the role of his football club in this whole issue has to be examined. Even after allegations of what Donnelly did emerged he was still picked for the team. It was only when he pleaded guilty last November that he was formally dropped.

It has to be accepted that any defendant is innocent until proven guilty but many people will feel that an institution which has an important role at the heart of the north Belfast community should have acted sooner given the nature of the allegations.

Football clubs like to portray themselves as family-friendly bodies and have teams of all age groups under their wing. Parents who allow their children to join such clubs expect those young people to be taught that sport is about team building, fair play and upright behaviour as well as simply winning matches.

Sport can be a great social education for young men and women, giving them opportunities in life which they might not otherwise enjoy. But that places a heavy responsibility on sporting institutions to ensure that the lessons learned are the correct ones.

The response by Cliftonville after yesterday's sentencing was less forthright than many would have expected. It said the club would give due consideration to the judgment as well as the outcome of the appeal and that it was mindful of its duties and responsibilities and would continue to act on that basis.

No mention was made of the girl or of the club's attitude to behaviour such as Donnelly's. Is that really the message that fans never mind parents of young players expected to hear?

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