A former Football Association (FA) chief has warned that more must be done to protect children from pedophile coaches after the sport was rocked by a child abuse scandal last year.
Alex Horne, who was FA general secretary from 2010 to 2015, said football organisations should adopt the same standards that exist in British schools to keep children safe.
Some 1.8 million young people in the UK play football, Horne said, and admitted that the sport presents opportunities for sexual predators.
“If predatory individuals wanted to get in proximity to kids, sport is an opportunity for them,” he told Business Insider at a Cogress Investor Club event in London.
“But there are things we can do to tighten that up. There are rules around teachers having relationships with children that aren’t as strict in football clubs as they are in a school environment.”
Horne added: “There are also rules around secondary levels of provision as supply teachers have to be CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] checked.
“If you’re a coach that is predominantly involved in adult football but you occasionally take a youth session, there is a loophole present. And that’s just a couple examples that have come to light as part of recent investigations.”
The biggest scandal in English football history?
English football faced one of the biggest crises in its history in November last year, when former professional footballers revealed they had been sexually abused by football coaches from the 1970s through to the 1990s.
By January, 2017, more than 1,000 cases of child sexual abuse within football had been reported to police. The BBC said “526 potential victims ranged in age from four to 20, with 248 clubs impacted by police procedures.“
At the heart of the allegations was Barry Bennell, a convicted paedophile who was charged with eight new child sex offenses last year. Bennell was a coach at Crewe Alexandra, but also had an association with Stoke City and Manchester City.
Speaking to Business Insider, David Bernstein, the former chairman of Manchester City and the FA, said no reports of abuse ever came across his desk at either organisation.
“It’s a question of history, over so many years, so much happened that people did not know about,” Bernstein, 73, said. “All you can do is go back in time and investigate and assess who did what and who did not do what.”
He said it would be “terribly unfair” to blame the FA and said the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the trade union for professional footballers, must shoulder some responsibility.
“I’d not look at the FA, but rather the PFA. This is the body that players should go to,” Bernstein said.
The FA is the governing body of football in England and responsible for all aspects of professional and amateur level sport. The PFA protects the rights of its 4,000 members.
Horne disagreed with Bernstein, arguing the child-abuse scandal in football is purely “an FA responsibility, not a PFA one.” He added: “When I was there, the FA took safeguarding really seriously. The safeguarding rules were put in place and carefully monitored to last 15 or 20 years.”
Football is ‘still a safe environment for children’
The FA launched an independent review into non-recent child sexual abuse at the start of 2017, while the police are investigating the matter as part of Operation Hydrant.
“These are criminal matters involving difficult investigations that take a long time. It is a question of finding the right environment where the young person feels comfortable coming forwards, talking about it and gathering evidence,” Horne, 48, said.
“When you put a contemporary lens over a number of sectors — church, entertainment, sport, and the workplace — it’s horrifying. Could [the FA] do more? Absolutely. And they will do. I have every confidence.”
He insisted, however, that football remains a relatively safe place for children. “Football, given its scale in size, is still a good exemplar for a safe environment for young kids wanting to play sport,” he said.
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