The Football Association (FA) has apologised to survivors of historic child sexual abuse after an independent review found it “did not do enough to keep children safe”.
The Sheldon review examined the abuse of children within English football between 1970 and 2005 and criticised the FA for being “too slow” to implement protection measures between 1995 and May 2000.
Prior to the middle of 1995, the report said there was no evidence of the FA being aware of an abuse problem, but the period immediately afterwards came in for strong criticism.
“This was an institutional failing by the FA, for which there is no excuse,” the Sheldon review read.
It was also concluded that the FA “did not act appropriately” when serial sex offender Barry Bennell was released from prison in 2003 because it failed to put measures in place to prevent him from returning to football.
Bennell, a former coach at Crewe Alexandra and a scout at Manchester City, was jailed for nine years in 1998 for offences against six boys.
In November 2016, former Crewe player Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to detail how he was sexually abused by Bennell between the ages of 11 and 15.
That set in motion a chain of events, with numerous other survivors coming forward, and Bennell was jailed for 30 years in 2018 for offences against 12 boys, with a further four-year sentence coming in October 2020 when he was found guilty of abusing two more victims.
Reflecting on “a dark day for the beautiful game”, FA chief executive Mark Bullingham addressed the survivors directly in a statement.
“You have the deepest admiration of the FA. Your bravery throughout this process has been incredible. Your voices have been so powerful,” he said.
“I’d like to start by giving a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Football Association and the English game to all survivors, that this happened to you within football. No child should ever have experienced the abuse you did.
“What you went through was horrific and it is deeply upsetting that more was not done by the game at the time, to give you the protection you deserved.
“There are consistent features in this review. Of bystanders who didn’t do anything. Of children that weren’t believed. Of the damage that has been caused.”
The review contacted all amateur and professional clubs in England and Wales and singled out Crewe, Manchester City, Chelsea, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Southampton, Stoke City and Peterborough United for criticism.
City’s association with Bennell came under the spotlight, along with their “wholly inadequate” response to connections with another paedophile, John Broome, who preyed on young boys while managing one of the club’s feeder teams.
“The club’s board of directors wishes to apologise publicly and unreservedly for the unimaginable suffering experienced by those who were abused as a result of the club’s association with these men,” read a statement issued by City, who commissioned their own review into historic child sexual abuse in November 2016, led by Jane Mulcahy QC.
“More widely, the club expresses its sincerest admiration for every survivor – those that have spoken freely, those who spoke anonymously and those who are yet to disclose and indeed may choose never to do so.
“Their bravery and strength must never be forgotten and always be acknowledged.”
The Sheldon review makes 13 recommendations over how to keep children in football safe.
The FA has been encouraged to widen its system of spot-checks for grassroots club and review its safeguarding measures.
Additionally, the FA Board should have a “Children’s Safeguarding Champion”, with every Premier League and Championship club also having a full-time safeguarding officer.
“Having considered the review, we accept the findings and insights it provides,” said the Premier League in a statement.
“The Premier League is committed to working in partnership with our clubs and their community organisations, the FA, statutory agencies and other key partners to address the conclusions and recommendations, which will further strengthen safeguarding arrangements across the game.”
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