Independent review into child sexual abuse in football

On 17 March 2021 Clive Sheldon QC published his long-anticipated independent review into allegations of child sexual abuse in football. In his report Sheldon identified that generations of young footballers have suffered abuse due to an absence of child protection and safeguarding policies and procedures.

All of us at The Safeguarding Company have been greatly saddened by the findings of the 700+ page report, and our thoughts are with all of the victims of such abuse.

Sheldon notes that understanding the extent of abuse suffered by the survivors is particularly important as the survivor’s stories and sufferings deserve to be recognised. It is also vital that history is not repeated, and procedures are put into place to safeguard current and future generations of football players.

The Report

The report was commissioned by the FA following the publication of Andy Woodward’s disclosure of child sexual abuse on November 16th 2016, which was immediately followed by a surge of disclosures by fellow footballers. As a consequence, the FA decided that it was necessary to investigate what had happened in football, and how sexual abuse of children was allowed to take place within the sport. The period between 1970 to 2005 was identified as the time during which the majority of incidences of abuse were disclosed as having taken place.

Survivors

Sheldon stresses that it is not possible to know exactly how many children suffered abuse in football between 1970 and 2005 as most incidents would not have been reported. However, in statistics produced by Operation Hydrant, the data shows there were a shocking 240 suspects within football, with 692 survivors.

Survivors interviewed talked about the devastating impact the abuse had on their lives, as well as the lives of the families and loved ones. Many described suicide attempts, alcohol or drug abuse or dependency, depression and other mental health issues, and failed relationships which they attribute to the abuse they suffered.

Professional Clubs and Grassroots

It is extremely important to note that while most of the child sexual abuse highlighted in the national media took place in professional clubs or development clubs for professional teams, there were also several cases of abuse in the grassroots game where football was merely one of the settings used by abusers.

The abusers used their respectable status gained through their association with professional clubs and organisations to access children and young people, where they would proceed to befriend, groom, and abuse these children.

Recommendations

Sheldon identified 3 themes to make football a safer place for future generations of children:

  1. training at all levels
  2. a child-first culture
  3. transparency and accountability.

One of his thirteen recommendations is a requirement for safeguarding training for all players and young people, parents and caregivers, FA Board and Senior Management Team members, Board of Directors of professional clubs.
For grassroot clubs, Sheldon recommends that all individuals in a regulated activity, including managers and coaches of junior teams and open-age teams at grassroots clubs should receive safeguarding training as part of their clubs’ affiliation to their County FA as well as engaging in safeguarding strategy and implementation.

Following this, the FA should, on an annual basis, widen the system of spot checks for grassroots clubs to review their safeguarding policies and practices, including overnight stays, away travel and trips, use of social media, and coaching in a digital environment, as well as obtaining the views of children and young people, and to sanction those clubs that fail to comply.

All grassroots clubs need to make their safeguarding policy and the contact details of the Welfare Officer readily available to parents and carers of all junior players (under 18). The policy document should clearly lay out the steps to raise a safeguarding concern or complaint.

These recommendations were suggested by survivors of abuse themselves as well as by other participants of the review in safeguarding roles.

Aftermath

The Football Association, Premier League and leading clubs have issued formal apologies and have acknowledged the report, agreeing to accept all key recommendations made by Sheldon regarding safeguarding.

“Today is a dark day for the beautiful game,” said Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the FA. “One in which we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent them being repeated.”

MyConcern and football

In recent years, the majority of Premier League Clubs and English Football League clubs, plus additional high profile sporting organisations have adopted MyConcern successfully to manage their safeguarding responsibilities proactively and effectively. Cardiff City Football Club Community Foundation is one of the footballing organisations that have implemented the use of MyConcern. Previously the Foundation used paper to record and file any wellbeing or safeguarding concerns. This raised issues with the consistency of information recording and reporting and records were also held in multiple locations. The administrative side of safeguarding was a challenge, particularly accessing and storing information securely and ensuring follow-ups were taking place for each case.

Implementing MyConcern has given the Foundation a more consistent approach to the management of safeguarding. Staff are now confident that concerns can be stored and accessed securely, any follow-ups on cases or incidents can be easily recorded.

“MyConcern is absolutely great! It has given us valuable insight which now informs our training plans.” - Simon Stephens, Programmes Director Cardiff City Football Club Community Foundation.

 

View the full Sheldon report HERE

Author
Georgia Latief
Marketing

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