Accusations of abuse within the sporting world are continuing to hit the headlines. Barry Bennell, the former Crewe Alexandra football coach has been accused by former footballer Andy Woodward of allegations of sexual assault. This allegation led to numerous other former players coming forward and he is now facing a total of 55 counts of non-recent sexual abuse against boys as young as 11.
In the meantime, John Marshall, a former youth coach based in the Newcastle area has been charged with eight non-recent offences on three boys aged between 12 and 14. Bob Higgins, former youth coach with Southampton has recently been charged with 65 counts of non-recent sexual abuse against 23 three boys and is due to appear in court later this month.
It is understood that both Bennell and Marshall deny the charges but it is not known how Higgins will plead.
After an initial period of uncertainty, The Offside Trust, set up by ex-footballer Steve Walters and former professional golfer Chris Unsworth in the wake of the Bennell allegations, has now started to gather momentum by relaunching its website and outlining its key aims to end abuse in support and to support those in all sports that are survivors or abuse.
These matters concern ‘non-recent’ allegations of abuse in football however it is clear that there are issues in many others sports too, which may also be (in some situations) more recent:
- Rugby – David Simmons, a 26 year old rugby coach who ran sessions at venues in south west London has recently been jailed after pleading guilty to 17 sexual offences, including sexual assault, after it emerged that he used to covertly film young players in changing rooms.
- Swimming – British Swimming is conducting an investigation into a number of allegations of bullying made by Paralympians against a coach.
- Canoeing – Earlier this year it was revealed that the governing body of British Canoeing was beginning an independent investigation into a formal complaint made last year.
- Cycling – A report on allegations of bullying and sexism in British Cycling is soon to be published.
- Bobsleigh – A number of athletes have also raised concerns to the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association in respect of incidents of ‘bullying, racism, sexism and discrimination’.
- Archery – A senior British archery coach has been suspended this month following a complaint to police over an alleged sexual assault involving a young female Para-athlete.
It is clear that safeguarding and responding to allegations of abuse within sport are issues which need to be addressed and they are not simply something that may have happened in the past. One positive step is that it appears that survivors of abuse within sporting environments now feel more able and willing to bravely step forward and report what has happened to them.
Written by David Milton, partner at BLM