A “reluctance to investigate” child abuse allegations meant that abusers were able to “hide within football” between 1970 and 2005, an independent review of the Football Assocation (FA) has concluded.
The inquiry, carried out by Clive Sheldon QC, came about after former footballer Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity in 2016 to describe the abuse he suffered from prolific coach and abuser, Barry Bennell.
Bennell, who was one of “at least 240 known suspects” described in the report, sexually abused many young boys, mainly in the North West and Midlands, over several decades.
The review has prompted formal statements of apology from the FA, Premier League, English Football League (EFL), and from several top clubs.
‘Ignorance or naivety’
Clive Sheldon QC said: “Warning signs were often missed or not acted upon.
“This was usually out of ignorance or naivety. There was often a feeling that without ‘concrete evidence’ or a specific allegation from a child nothing could, or should, be done, and so there was a reluctance to investigate or monitor, let alone confront the perpetrator and interfere with his actions.
“Unlike today, where the best practice is to inquire further, or at least investigate, where there are ‘seeds of doubt’, this was not the general practice during the period 1970 to 2005. As a result, in many cases, perpetrators were able to hide within football, and use their positions to ruin the lives of many children.”
The report found that between 1995 and 2000, the FA did not do enough to keep children safe, and while improvements have been made since, the report also criticised more recent failures, such as not monitoring Barry Bennell when he was released from prison in 2003.
‘We all failed to protect them’
Chief executive of the FA, Mark Bullingham, said: “Today is a dark day for the beautiful game. One in which we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent them being repeated.”
He also said the victims were “let down by the game, the authorities and society as a whole”.
“We all failed to protect them,” he added.
The Offside Trust, a charity which supports survivors of abuse, said in a statement: “We would have liked to have seen more on wealthy clubs supporting grassroots safeguarding.
“We are deeply disappointed that the opportunity to create a world-class standard for child protection and safeguarding in sport has been missed.
“It’s like playing in the world’s longest tournament only to get to the final and be told that the outcome had already been decided years ago.”