Pressure is building in Scotland on the national football organisation, the SFA, to investigate non-recent abuse. Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme on 28 November, Gordon Smith, SFA chief executive from 2007 until 2010, said: “I think they [the SFA] just need to announce that they are doing a full investigation into it … and if there are any cases that do come up then we need to make sure that these will be dealt with, and the players who have been involved – the ones who have actually been abused – will receive help and counselling. We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The SFA is urging players and others involved in football – from grassroots level to the professional game – to speak up if they are aware of abuse. Donna Martin, SFA child protection manager, said: “The safety and wellbeing of children is of paramount importance to the Scottish FA and significant steps have been taken to ensure that their protection is integral to Scottish football’s decision-making processes. We would urge anyone with any information relating to abuse or inappropriate behaviour, whether current or historic, to get in touch via the NSPCC’s helpline, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Also on 28 November, Dougie Gilligan, a Scottish former footballer from Hamilton, spoke out about alleged abuse by former Crewe Alexandra coach Barry Bennell, saying that he fears there is a “huge” problem with sexual abuse in football. Mr Gilligan, who later played football semi-professionally, said he had spoken to the police in 1996 and had been ready to testify before Bennell pled guilty. Mr Gilligan said Bennell had abused him while he was staying overnight at the former coach’s chalet with two other boys.
The SFA is meeting further to discuss these matters. Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, said the numbers of people involved could be high and called for a focus on vetting coaches and parents being alert to their child’s behaviour. He said: “Coaches are in a very powerful position and that kind of arrangement means that anyone with predatory behaviour sees it as an opportunity”.
Written by Frank Hughes, Partner