Belfast Telegraph

The truly ugly side of the beautiful game

Editor's Viewpoint

For predatory sex abusers, football clubs in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties were easy targets. It should not surprise us, given the level of abuse of children and young people that has been exposed in recent years involving Catholic clergy, care homes and people like Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall at the BBC, that boys in youth football teams were also targeted.

These were young kids inexperienced in the ways of the world and away from home, in many cases for the first time in their lives. They were easy prey for their abusers. This was long before the introduction of the strict vetting of anyone dealing with children or young people that exists now.

As one football figure put it this week, clubs in past decades were sleepwalking through a crisis they didn't even know was happening under their very noses.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle - thanks to the courage of more than 20 former players who have gone public on the abuse they suffered - it is clear that the football authorities have a serious problem on their hands.

Investigations are now being conducted by 15 police forces in the UK, and more than 800 calls have been made to the NSPCC since a hotline dedicated to these new allegations of abuse was set up a week ago. That is a huge response rate, and to the credit of some clubs they have instigated their own investigations, not to cover them up but to expose the wrongdoers.

The question on most people's lips is how this level of abuse went virtually undetected for so long. Murmurings of cover-ups have been strongly denied, and it is telling that players who were abused admit they just felt there was no one they could turn to for help. These were young men who wanted to make a career in the sport, where there was a culture of not rocking the boat if they wanted to get on.

Fortunately, there are now strict safeguarding rules in place, clubs have staff dedicated to helping the young people in their charge, and a glaring spotlight has been shone on vile practices. The NSPCC is playing a vital role in helping to unmask abusers. Yet those young men who saw their careers, and their lives, ruined by the abusers now need to get help to come to terms with their trauma. History may well judge that society in the latter part of the 20th century was a dangerous place for children and young people as they were preyed upon by manipulating abusers. Perhaps now we can give them some justice.

Belfast Telegraph


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