Inquiry finds that the FA and Premier League failed survivors of sexual abuse

Thursday, March 18

By Ciarán Mather

An inquiry which investigated the UK's Football Association (FA) has found the organisation culpable of 'institutional failure' at its delay in introducing safeguarding measures against child predators after 1995.

It noted in its 700-page report: 'The FA acted far too slowly to introduce appropriate … child protection measures [from 1995].' 

'These are significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse. During this period, the FA did not do enough to keep children safe.'

In addition, Clive Sheldon QC, who led the inquiry, said: 'There was no guidance, training or general awareness of child protection issues [in the FA] from 1970 to the mid-1990s.'

According to its findings, the inquiry identified failures to act adequately on complaints or rumours of sexual abuse at eight professional clubs.

These included: Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Chelsea, Southampton, Peterborough – and at Manchester City, Stoke City and Crewe Alexandra where convicted child sex abuser Barry Bennell was employed as a youth coach. 

The revelations about the disgraced coach's crimes first came to light in 2016 from footballer Andy Woodward, a survivor of Bennell's sexual abuse.

Mr. Sheldon also found that many survivors were bullied, scared or manipulated into silence.

He also revealed that he did believe that concerns about inappropriate behaviour, including boys staying at Bennell’s house, had been discussed by the then chairman Norman Rowlinson, director John Bowler and another director, Hamilton Smith.

'I am also satisfied that, during Bennell’s time at the Club, there were rumours circulating about [Bennell] and his sexual interest in children which were heard by some of the Club’s staff, including Dario Gradi.' 

However, Mr. Sheldon stressed that the club 'should have done more to check on the wellbeing of the boys,' and monitored Bennell’s activities.

Similar criticisms were levelled at Manchester City, Aston Villa, Stoke City and Chelsea.

The Offside Trust, which is run by survivors of sexual abuse at football clubs, said in a statement: 'We are deeply disappointed that an opportunity to create a world-class standard of child protection and safeguarding in sport has been missed.'

'The recommendations are ones which would have been blindingly obvious to anyone within a few weeks of the scandal breaking. The FA should have immediately made these most basic of changes around training, awareness, spot checks and transparency without waiting for a 700-page report.'

Both the FA and Premier League have since issued apologies for their negligence, and have claimed that they will begin implementing the report’s recommendations.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call Samaritans Ireland at 116 123 or email, or you can contact the Rape Crisis Centre by clicking here.

Help is always at hand and there is always someone available to listen.