The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has this week published its report into abuse within sport in Japan. The report is titled ‘I was hit so many times I can’t count’ and details the study’s findings: that child athletes in Japan have routinely suffered physical abuse from their coaches. The report comes in the week that would have marked the start of the Tokyo Olympics had it not been for the COVID-19 global pandemic which has delayed the games by one year.
‘Athlete A’ is Netflix’s recently released documentary which focuses on the sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics (‘USAG’), perpetrated by Dr Larry Nassar, a former team doctor, under the guise of medical procedures. Nassar was accused of sexually assaulting over 250 women and girls dating back to 1992. The documentary explores the investigation by the Indianapolis Star which culminated in the conviction and sentencing of Nassar in 2018; the response of USAG to reports of sexual abuse; and the culture within USAG which enabled Nassar to continue to commit sexual assaults for a considerable length of time.
IICSA has recently published a Truth Project thematic report that focuses on child sexual abuse within sport. The report follows a detailed, qualitative analysis of victim and survivor experiences of child sexual abuse in sport to identify themes and inform future recommendations.
It has been reported that Aston Villa and Leicester City have settled sexual abuse claims concerning five victims of a football scout, Ted Langford, who worked as a part-time football scout in the Midlands in the 1970s and 1980s.
It is understood that the settlements were reached just a matter of weeks before the matters were due to be heard by the High Court.
The Offside Trust, the organisation set up in the wake of the football abuse scandal, which aims to work alongside football clubs to enhance safeguarding, has this week claimed that at least 80 sports coaches have been convicted of child sexual abuse in the past two years.
It has been reported in the press that the Football Association’s independent Inquiry into historical allegations of sexual abuse has found no evidence of organised institutional abuse or a cover-up. The Inquiry, headed by Clive Sheldon QC, was launched in December 2016, following numerous high profile allegations of sexual abuse, and the final report is expected to be delivered to the Football Association in September 2018. It is understood that the Inquiry team has to date interviewed 35 survivors of abuse and another 70 people who were involved in the sport at the relevant time. It is also understood that the Inquiry team has had access to around 13,000 documents. The final report is still expected to be critical and to find failings by both individuals and football clubs themselves. The Inquiry team is now writing to a number of institutions and individuals to give them advance warning of the contents of the final report so that they may have the opportunity to respond prior to the report being finalised. Continue reading
There have been a number of developments this month in respect of alleged abuse within sport. Continue reading
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) recently published its quarterly statistics. Its thirteen investigations and research projects cover a wide range of themes and organisations but one which is missing is that of sport. Football in the UK, gymnastics in the USA are but two sports which have been significantly impacted this year by criminal trials in connection with non-recent sexual abuse. Notwithstanding the lack of any formal focus on sport by IICSA football is a focus for a number of its own inquiries. Continue reading
Earlier this month Barry Bennell, former coach with Crewe Alexander, was charged with 12 further counts of indecent assault and serious sexual assault on boys in the years between 1980 and 1987. This brings the outstanding charges against him to 20 since Andy Woodward and other players’ allegations about him were first made in November 2016. He has pleaded Not Guilty to all charges.
Since those initial disclosures there has been a succession of disclosures and developments within UK football and other sports.
Yesterday, the Scottish Football Association confirmed that it is to set up an Independent Review of child abuse allegations in football. The SFA Chief Executive pointed out, though, that “Police Scotland has reaffirmed that it is the investigatory authority regarding reports of child sexual abuse in football.” NSPCC Scotland, which has set up a specialist hotline to support and advise survivors of football abuse, has welcomed the SFA’s announcement of an Independent Review, with its National Head of Service noting that “The number of cases highlighted so far reveal the deeply disturbing extent of abuse that has been going on within football.”
The SFA’s Independent Review is to focus on “processes and procedures” in place both currently and historically in Scottish Football. The “initial scoping phase” of the review will run into 2017, with the SFA committed to commenting further on it thereafter.
Last week in the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister had been urged to extend the remit of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry to deal also with non-recent abuse in football. The First Minister declined, noting that “To widen the remit of (the) Inquiry would mean that it would perhaps take many years longer to conclude its investigations and would risk it becoming completely unwieldy. We would be at risk, I think, of breaking our word to survivors of in-care abuse. My view is that we should allow that Inquiry to get on with its job and allow the police to get on with investigating allegations of abuse in football.”
It is worth noting the differences between the ongoing Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and the SFA Independent Review which is to be set up.
The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is a statutory one, set up by the Scottish Government under the Inquiries Act 2005. It is charged, amongst other things, with: creating a national public record and commentary on abuse of children in care in Scotland for the period within living memory to no later than 17 December 2014; considering the extent to which failures to protect children in care have been addressed; and to consider whether further changes in practice, policy or legislation are necessary to protect children in care from abuse in future. Within four years of the establishment of the Inquiry (by October 2019), it is to report to Scottish Ministers and to make recommendations.
The SFA Independent Review, on the other hand, will not be set up under a public Act of Parliament so its scope and power, as well as how it is conducted, will not be governed by the Inquiries Act 2005. However, whilst its constitution and scope is yet to be defined, the SFA Chief Executive has given an indication of its purpose, referring to “what lessons football can learn from (abuse) allegations” so that “Scottish football is a safe and enjoyable environment for children.”
Written by Frank Hughes, Partner