‘No excuse’ for FA ‘failings’, says child sexual abuse report

A four-year review into child sexual abuse allegations within football has concluded that the Football Association did not do enough to keep children safe between 1995 and 2000, describing it as “significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse”.

A 707-page report was published on Wednesday by Clive Sheldon QC, who was appointed by the FA in December 2016 to undertake an independent review into allegations of sexual abuse by coaches and scouts working within youth football between 1970 and 2005.

Sixty-two survivors of abuse and 157 further individuals gave evidence to the investigation, which looked at how the FA, clubs, and individuals handled reports of abuse at the time.

The report concluded that while “there is no evidence the FA knew that there was a serious or systemic problem of child sexual abuse within the game in England” prior to 1995, the governing body “did not do enough to keep children safe” between 1995 and 2000.

“The FA acted far too slowly to introduce appropriate and sufficient child protection measures, and to ensure that safeguarding was taken sufficiently seriously by those involved in the game,” the report stated.

Barry Bennell
Image: A number of the allegations centre on convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, a youth coach during the 1980s and 90s

“These are significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse.”

A number of the allegations centre on convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, who was a youth coach at both Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City during the 1980s and 90s.

The report concluded the FA “did not act appropriately” following Bennell’s release from prison in 2003, and cited the fact no measures were put in place to stop him from returning to football.

While the report found no evidence he had returned to the sport after his release, the FA’s failure to monitor it “allowed children to be put at potential risk”.

Historical failures were also identified at a number of other clubs, including Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Stoke, Peterborough, and Southampton.

The report highlighted numerous examples where clubs linked to abusers had heard rumours or received complaints and failed to handle them properly.

In all, the review said data passed to it by Operation Hydrant in August 2020 had identified 240 suspects and 692 survivors.

Former Newcastle midfielder and abuse survivor Derek Bell says he is frustrated the independent review into historical child sexual abuse took four years but hopes it inspires other sports to follow football’s lead

The review also made 13 recommendations for the FA to improve safeguarding.

These include a board member becoming a safeguarding champion, an annual review of safeguarding spot-checks that grassroots clubs can carry out, and the employment of safeguarding officers at all 92 professional clubs – full-time in the Premier League and Championship and part-time in Leagues One and Two.

It also calls for an annual safeguarding review and a National Day of Safeguarding In Football.

“I very much hope that this report will be read carefully by all persons involved in administering the game of football today, including the FA and the clubs who were associated with perpetrators of abuse,” added Sheldon.

“Understanding and acknowledging the appalling abuse suffered by young players in the period covered by the review is important for its own sake. Survivors deserve to be listened to, and their suffering deserves to be properly recognised.

“As well as recognising and facing up to what happened in the past, it is also important that this terrible history is not repeated, and that everything possible is done now to safeguard the current and future generations of young players.

“I hope that this report will make some contribution towards that.”

The FA is expected to formally respond to the review later on Wednesday afternoon.

For further information about child abuse, sexual abuse, or exploitation, for either you or someone close to you, please see the list of organisations listed in the child abuse section on Sky’s Viewer Support page.