Accusations that abuse by coaches was covered up have rocked English football, damaging the multi-billion pound sport’s image and earning it comparisons with scandals in the Catholic Church and the BBC.
Over 20 victims have come forward since the floodgates were opened when Andy Woodward spoke out to The Guardian and there is growing incredulity that English football’s governing body the Football Association (FA) was unaware of the rumours and claims the abuse was going on.
British lawmaker Damian Collins, chairman of the influential Culture Media and Sports Parliamentary Committee, told AFP that there was a culture of avoiding the problem at the FA and the clubs.
“A picture is building up of people in football not having addressed the abuse and also may have turned their gaze away from it,” he told AFP.
Giving credence to his view is the fact the FA dismissed with a terse “no comment” claims made by Ian Ackley about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of serial offender and youth coach Barry Bennell in a Channel Four documentary in 1997.
Such disdainful treatment of victims and also whistleblowers is of concern to Collins.
“Abuse is an incredibly serious problem and my concern is how does a victim or a whistleblower report it?” said the 42-year-old.
“Because often they are met with a response of ‘do you have documentary evidence’ and if you don’t you’re told you better keep your mouth shut.”
Greg Clarke, the recently elected chairman of the FA, which has launched its own inquiry headed up by an eminent lawyer, does not believe there has been a cover-up but has conceded that a blind eye might have been turned to the stories of abuse.
“I think the moral consequences of failing to deal with some of these issues in the past we must get to the bottom of,” Clarke said on Tuesday.
However, with revelations emerging on a daily basis the FA’s image is taking a pounding.
The BBC revealed on Wednesday the FA scrapped a review into its Child Protection Programme two years into its existence in 2003 and the journalist who made the 1997 Channel Four documentary insists there is a 2005 FA report lying gathering dust which has 250 names of abused under-age footballers on it.
Collins for his part said that if he and his committee are not satsified by the reference points set by the FA for their inquiry then they will summon Clarke in the new year to appear before them.
“I am concerned the inquiry by the FA will be too narrowly focused on the claims themselves and not on the broader picture,” said Collins.
“I am worried the clubs will end up doing their own housework and it won’t look at the broader cultural issues of how people got away with the abuse and will avoid posing difficult and pertinent questions.”
The FA are treading a well-trodden path taken in recent years by previously revered pillars or bedrocks of the establishment.
The Catholic Church has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy, starting in the Boston archdiocese in the United States in 2002.
Pope Francis last year offered a surprise public apology for paedophile scandals dating back decades and was praised for meeting with survivors in Rome and in Philadelphia during a visit to the US.
But he has come under severe criticism for failing to punish guilty clerics and end a culture of complacency over internal abuse investigations.
In Britain, the BBC was the focus of an inquiry earlier this year that reported a culture of “fear” around whistleblowing that helped late presenter Jimmy Savile hide his crimes for decades.
The report found Savile had abused 72 people — nearly half aged under 16 — in studios, dressing rooms, lifts and canteens between 1959 and 2006.
His youngest victim was aged just eight.
Ackley said he hoped for one outcome above all else at the end of the inquiry.
“Finally someone in authority might say ‘yes, we were at fault. We are accountable’,” Ackley told The Times.