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Editor's letter: Tackling child abuse in sport

The activities of paedophiles in grooming and abusing children and young people in sport is the greatest challenge we have ever faced. We must tackle it head on

by Liz Terry, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2016 issue 128
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue

We love to see sport as a wonderful part of life where we strive to do our best. Where we learn lessons in determination – fighting to win, but being gracious in defeat. Where teamwork forges friendships and creates tribes for life and good exercise habits are established.

But while this is true for the majority, a darker reality is opening before our eyes, as the awful extent of paedophile activity in sport begins to emerge.

Right-thinking people in the industry are bracing to deal compassionately and effectively with whatever horrors unfold in the coming months and years.

As I write, after just a handful of days, 14 police forces are already engaged in the investigation and around 800 people are reported to have come forward to say they were abused. The current focus is on football, but it seems inevitable this will extend to other sports and that to a degree, the entire sports sector will be touched by this horrible tragedy.

We know from Savile how long this takes: sport now faces years of challenging times, as accusations and alleged coverups are investigated and action taken.

What can be done? For those who have been harmed, justice brings some closure and must be delivered. As important, however, is the need to sweep through sport to flush out this evil and ensure it’s never possible for children to be exploited and abused.

There must be no dark corners where paedophiles can hide and thrive. This goal has sustained the courage of those who’ve come forward, with the aim of preventing other innocents suffering as they have.

It must never be possible for paedophiles to infiltrate sport, never possible for them to take advantage of children who feel they have the expectations of parents and adults on their shoulders. Never possible for them to exploit the hopes and dreams of young people.

Governance and honesty lie at the heart of this. There is evidence emerging that some adults and sports organisations have been more likely to turn a blind eye or attempt a cover-up than to ‘rock the boat’ when it comes to taking action against paedophiles.

So if adults and those in power cannot be relied on to protect children when they are suspicious, things must be organised to allow for this fact. Whatever it takes to make it work, we must do it, and we must do it fast.

Teams, clubs and governing bodies must review their processes and deliver on this immediately to stop it dead in its tracks, so no more harm is done.

Very sadly, history is showing us that nothing less than total elimination through control will do.

This will damage volunteering as people hesitate to step forward in case they are suspected, undermine parent’s faith in sports’ ability to safeguard their children.

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