During the last two weeks I have read the latest report from the Truth Project from IICSA, this report was focussed on abuse in sport, I have watched the Netflix documentary Athlete A regarding the sexual abuse perpetrated by the USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar as well as the physical and emotional abuse some of the coaches perpetrated on the young athletes, I also listened to two radio podcasts regarding abuse by a former football coach in Scotland.
All the stories were disturbing as they featured multiple abuses of children and highlighted significant failures by those who should have been protecting children at all levels. The depravity of the abusers and their persistence for their own self gratification was extreme, in one of the radio podcasts the former Chelsea player Pat Nevin recounted his experiences of travelling in a car with a football coach, if you sat in the front seat everyone knew that the child sitting there would face abuse and that some of the coaches made them feel uncomfortable. The fear that so many children experienced at the hands of so many cannot be imagined and cannot be overlooked as many describe the problems that they experienced in their lives with poor mental health and relationship difficulties being prominent. What’s disturbing in every case is the failure of adults to do the “right thing” and take the appropriate action to protect children.
The reputations of coaches, of the club and winning at all costs were the main failures from all the articles, the safety of children was not a priority and parents’ concerns were simply brushed away, the fact that internal investigations were carried out and were not in anyway transparent is also shocking but sadly not surprising.
The Truth Project report gives some very powerful narratives from those who gave evidence to the inquiry, in print their narratives portray their fears and pain and allows the report to flow building a picture of the failures to protect all of these children from harm from their abusers, in Athlete A the visualisation is different and equally disturbing as you see the victims faces, their families and ultimately their anger as they presented their victim impact statement to the court in front of their abuser, the scale of his abuse was simply staggering and that this was allowed to continue years after he was first reported, his reputation gave him precedence over the words of his victims. The radio commentaries also give a different perspective in particular, Adrian Goldberg’s commentary during his interview with Andrew Gray’s sister Michelle Gray, her brother was a victim of the convicted Celtic Boys Club FC coach Jim Torbett. Hearing how the abuse affected her brother was very emotional and you can feel Michelle’s pain when talking about Andrews abuse as sadly so many more are directly affected but often go unnoticed when the abuse comes to light, family and friends discover what happened to their loved ones as children which leads to unimaginable pain and guilt as many parents sent their children to play sport and have the opportunity to become a professional footballer or athlete yet were completely unaware of what was happening to them at the hands of apparently trusted coaches.
I feel the most damaging aspect of these stories was that children’s voices were effectively silenced despite many narratives stating that adults were told about what was happening, but no one appeared to be listening, threats were made to keep children silent and compliant, the risk of losing your place on the plane for the Olympics or the threat to tell your friends about what you have been doing are very powerful persuaders to keep silent.
More education is required in the sports sector in order to help keep children safe, lots of training for coaches, safeguarding leads and club welfare officers is widely available but what about teaching children, we cannot allow schools to be the sole repository of teaching children, sport has a responsibility to teach or train children about what to expect at a sports club, what boundaries are in place and what behaviour polices are in there for coaches, volunteers and children, how to report concerns and the “thorny” issue of abuse must be fully covered using cases that have occurred in sport such as Larry Nassar, Barry Bennell, Claire Lyte and Jim Torbett . The educational resources developed by the Voices for Truth and Dignity project can be used to help children understand how abuse can occur in sport and the good practice guide developed with those with lived experience of abuse in sport can be used to demonstrate effective safegaurding practices, however the most important point is to include children in all aspects of club development, how many clubs use children on recruitment panels, how many use children to effectively consult with other children about feeling safe at their club and can clubs effectively demonstrate that children voices are heard and heeded! I wonder what USA Gymnastics would make of these suggestions…any views???
Please see below links to the IICSA report and the radio podcasts, Athlete A is featured on Netflix.
Adrian Goldberg Interview
Drive time Interview by John Beattie with Pat Nevin from 25th June 2020, play from 57;42 mins to 1:10 mins
Voices for Truth and Dignity project educational resources and good practice guide
Truth Project Report IICSA
As always I am happy for a chat about any of the issues that I have written about and can be contacted on the details below.
Safeguarding in Sport Lead