Week 164 (26 November – 2 December 2016)
Sport moved from the back pages of the newspapers to the front again this week in the UK. This time, the reasons were deeply upsetting.
Two weeks ago, the story broke as the Guardian newspaper began its coverage of allegations against the coach, scout and serial paedophile Barry Bennell. Bennell is accused of having sexually abused boys in his charge in the 1970s and 1980s and was sentenced to nine years in prison, in 1998, after admitting 23 charges against six boys aged nine to 15.
Rather than sensationalising the fresh allegations, some made by former professional footballers, the Guardian has chosen a deliberately calm tone. Critically, the newspaper has given a voice to the boys understood to have been victims: now middle-aged men, who speak of decades carrying a terrible burden that has shaped much of their being.
With sensitivity and prudence, the Guardian has published several personal accounts, some written directly by the abused. The coverage has led to the creation of helplines, task forces and most importantly to the creation of a supportive and understanding environment where many are now finding the courage to unburden themselves. As a result, more than 350 claims of abuse have been reported to 17 police forces, with these figures climbing by the hour. Catharsis and justice are now a reasonable prospect for unimaginable numbers of victims.
In the words of Andy Woodward, whose story was among the first to be published by the Guardian: “Only now, at the age of 43, I feel I can actually live without that secret and that massive, horrible burden. I want to get it out and give other people an opportunity to do the same. I want to give people strength. I survived it. I lost my career, which was a massive thing for me, but I’m still here. I came through the other side. Other people can have that strength.”
As with other such cases, it may be found that institutions sheltered abusers. The Guardian and other newspapers can be expected to expose any such cover-ups.
Child safeguarding in football, as in other sports, has changed vastly since the 1970s and 1980s. A blind eye has given way to a wary eye. Disclosure and Barring Service checks are almost universal, as is simple vigilance.
In this context, however, children can never be too safe. Further protections are likely to owe a considerable debt to some brave men and the thoughtful newspaper that gave them a voice. For this reason, the Guardian newspaper is JTA’s Communicator of the Week.
Photo: The Guardian