The sexual abuse of children and young people takes place in sport, in just the same way as it can and does take place in any other area of life.
What I suspect people find so distressing and disturbing is not just the sexual abuse itself but the fact that it occurred in circumstances where the best of us is expected. Sport is about taking part, teamwork, competing, and aspiration. Sportsmanship is associated with the very best of values, and not exploitation and degradation.
What we are recognising and, maybe, in the long term this is not a bad thing, sport can provide the opportunity for those so disposed to abuse. It is no different to any other situation where children are potentially vulnerable whether this is a school, youth club, a religious organisation etc. They are in the care and control of others, who they are their families may not necessarily know. That is a vulnerability that we need to appreciate. Fortunately, in the majority of situations, this is not exploited. However, what the recent football allegations have shown us that there is still much to learn about understanding how to manage this risk.
It is too easy for organisations to rely on CRB checks and ignore the obvious. In the coming weeks and months, it has to be hoped that the various inquiries underway will examine the degree and depth that football clubs (and, indeed all sports organisations) vetted those charged with the training and management of young players. Moreover, they will need to look at reporting procedures and child protection policies and procedures. A young person at any club should know who to report their concerns to and a policy should already be in place to deal with these concerns. Likewise, any other person at the club should be aware of this policy and know what to do. There seems to be a plethora of stories in the media where many players and those working at clubs had concerns, however, these concerns seem to have a tendency of not being dealt with.
In the past, we have seen it where child victims have been said to have made a “life style choice”, or “we took no action because it would have been too painful”. Child protection policies are only of use if those entrusted with responsibilities concerned with young people know what they are. So therein, perhaps, lies the biggest challenge for all sport organisations and not just the FA – that is to make sure that all involved understand the issues, what is involved, and what their individual and collective duties are.