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Football’s sexual abuse victims speak out

I was planning to return this week to a more light-hearted consideration of the prospects of Premier League survival in London SE25 and whether the safeguarding steward will still have a job. However with the publication last week of the 710 page FA inquiry into sexual abuse in football dating back 25 years or more, the focus rightly swings back to a far more concerning topic.

The inquiry report written by Brian Sheldon QC showed that football in general had, pretty much, no safeguarding measures in place to protect the thousands of boys in particular who were engaged with the sport at all levels. The report also addressed the fact that those who appeared to know or suspect what was happening also failed to take sufficient or any action at all to stop it. Starting this week and running over three nights, there is a BBC documentary series, ‘Football’s Darkest Secret’, that will retell the shattering experiences of some of those impacted and how football authorities collectively failed to make appropriate responses.

It was only in November 2016 that the full extent of the issue came to light when ex footballer, Andy Woodward, felt able to share something of the mental anguish he had suffered since a youngster as a result of the abusive behaviour perpetrated by his football coach. Since then, in 2018, Barry Bennell, described by the judge as ‘sheer evil’, received a 30 year jail sentence and several other high profile court cases followed. Hundreds of boys came forward to tell their stories.

Some of the more prominent survivors have recently spoken in public about how they have begun to find peace by speaking out about what happened to them. For them this has been part of a healing process to counter the wide range of mental health issues they have experienced through much of their adult life. Their courage in so doing cannot be overestimated.

The documentary series has been described by one journalist as ‘devastating’. It promises to make for sobering and at times harrowing viewing. As always there will be lessons for all institutions that engage pro-actively with children and young people.

Football’s Darkest Secret starts at 9pm on BBC 1 on March 22nd, then the series is available on BBC iPlayer

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