Sports in general and football in particular for many children is a life long dream. Whilst parents encourage academic excellence, some children want to be good at sports. As football salaries have increased beyond proportion, the dream of being a great footballer has risen in parallel

Inevitably, participation in sports necessitates children spending time away from their parents in the company of trusted others, not only to play the actual game, but also for training. Whilst safeguarding standards have improved radically over the last few years, back in the 1970's risk assessments, and thorough vetting of those wanting to coach, or volunteer for sports were practically none existent.

Sports event often take place away from home, particularly when the away fixture is a long distance from home, and an overnight stay is necessary. Sports tours abroad are not uncommon, or weekend coaching courses in this country require children to stay either on site, or sometimes with the coach. Whilst hindsight is a wonderful thing, the coach has sometimes used these events to take advantage of their favourite boy or girl and commit child abuse

Those who operate in clubs may take advantage of their position by abusing and manipulating children by promising them things and attempting to exercise psychological control over their victims. A sort of institutional abuse, such as this.

Victims may feel powerless and unable to speak out against their abuser; it is only when they overcome this belief and seek support that they can start to process what happened and look for resolution in the past.

It is the owner of the sports club's responsibility to make sure that children in their care are secure and protected in cases of abuse. Many sports organisations have been found to violate their duty of care by exposing young victims to abusers. Those who have been let down by this negligence have the right to seek redress.

Conditions for abuse

Sports clubs have all the elements necessary to harbour abusers, who can assume an authoritative position and utilise it to persuade, manipulate, and eventually silence victims.

Regrettably, sports clubs are no different from any other secluded setting that permits kids to spend a lot of time apart from their parents. The majority of sports necessitate frequent practise sessions, lengthy travel times to contests, and staff members who can be used as leverage.

Those who have been subjected to abuse by sports club officials frequently experience favouritism from their abuser and are promised popularity or advancement in the sport provided they do not protest to or denounce their behaviour.

Like other institutions, sports clubs are susceptible to abuse, with perpetrators frequently:

  • choosing certain kids as favourites and paying them extra attention
  • promising to turn the youngster into a star
  • Threatening to ruin their job if the victims complain, object to, or speak out about their activities in order to exert control over them.
  • inviting victims to their home under the guise of practising more so that the victim can reach their full potential
  • Purchasing presents for their victims in order to make them feel desired and loved
  • Providing victims with lifts so that they can travel alone to and from training sessions, games, and other events
  • intimidation of victims, either to prevent them from reporting abuse or to make them believe that no one will believe them if they do report it
  • seeing and caring for injured youngsters unsupervised and by themselves.

Effects of Abuse

Abuse at a young age, like any other type of child abuse, can have complicated and long-lasting consequences. Victims frequently experience deep depression, which can result in complex emotional responses that affect every aspect of their later life.

Abuse in sports can eventually lead to victims being unable to pursue a long sporting career due to the mental scars left by their abuser.

Because children are frequently scared into silence during periods of abuse, the effects of abuse can last a lifetime. When survivors finally feel safe enough to break their silence and speak out about their abuse, they are often looking for justice to bring some closure to the darkest period of their lives.

Unfortunately, many adults still believe that they cannot speak out about their abusers in later life, and it is only when someone else exposes their abuser that they feel comfortable coming forward, which is one of the main reasons that mandatory reporting is so important in the UK.

Even after speaking out about their abuse, victims can be haunted by their past experiences, which can have long-term consequences for their personality and relationships..

Abuse at football clubs

Abuse in sports clubs came to light after former footballer Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to reveal that he had been abused as a child by a coach, convicted serial paedophile Barry Bennell.

Woodward's courageous admission prompted a number of other former football players, both professional and amateur, to come forward and report coach abuse while they were rising through the ranks as young stars.

Following reports that the sport had been infiltrated by a paedophile ring, the Football Association (FA) collaborated with the NSPCC to establish a hotline for footballers who had been abused by club staff; it is claimed that the hotline received more than 50 calls in its first two hours.

With evidence indicating that abuse was widespread in football youth clubs, and background checks not being as thorough as in other professions that worked with children, it is expected that many more children were abused by football staff.

Speaking out and filing a case against a former football abuser can encourage others to report abuse, resulting in the exposure and prosecution of other abusers.

Other sports

While the disclosure of abuse by former footballers was the first time the public spotlight was shone on sports clubs' failure to care for children on their books, it has long been established that abusers can be found in all types of sports, not just football.

Our abuse law specialists have assisted numerous clients who have been abused by coaches and other members of a sports club's staff. Swimming, karate, athletics, and rugby have all been identified as sports that are particularly prone to creating an environment conducive to abuse.

The media attention paid to abuse in football raised concerns in other sports, as all youth sports clubs share the same characteristics that can lead to institutional abuse:-

  • An authority figure who can use their position to manipulate and influence both children and parents.
  • A sense of trust from parents who are unlikely to suspect that their child is at risk while they are engaged in a hobby.
  • Opportunities for an abuser to be alone with victims, often overnight, while competing or meeting up
  • Unrestricted access to children without extensive background checks

Seeking justice

It is never too late for anyone who suffered abuse at the hands of coaches or other personnel while participating in sports as a youngster to seek justice and report an abuser.

Disclosing abuse and talking about their past experiences can help victims come to terms with what happened and survivors comprehend the impact abuse has had on their lives.

Our team understands the nature of abuse and its impact on victims, as well as how tough it can be to seek out and make that first admission. We assist our clients in connecting with the greatest possible support networks, allowing them to feel comfortable expressing their experiences and finally attempting to get their lives back on track.

Peter Garsden, Head of Abuse Law, is well known in this field as one of the founders of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers and has overseen several group actions where an organization's failure in their duty of care has led to group actions that have provided justice to a group of survivors.

If you were abused at a sports club, please call our team of caring and empathetic specialists, who will walk you through the entire process of bringing a former abuser to justice.

A helpline for potential victims has been established by the NSPCC and the Football Association. The hotline will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 0800 023 2642.

Manchester City Football Club established an unique restitution programme to recompense victims of abuse, such as those harmed by Barry Bennell or John Broome at or associated with Manchester City Football Club, however it expired on March 11, 2020.


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Obviously this advice is not intended to replace legal advice, nor can we guarantee that the information on the site is completely up to date. Thus we can accept no responsibility legally for any reliance upon it. It is intended to be merely guidance. For a legal opinion upon which you may rely, we insist that you contact us by email or fill in our form