Three decades, three prison-terms and a brave confession from a former professional footballer Andy Woodward is what it’s taken the world to fathom the extent of former football coach Barry Bennell’s misdemeanour. The burgeoning list of similarly horrific revelations that have emerged since Woodward lifted the lid shows not only that child sex abuse has been rampant in English football but also that the issue still remains taboo, with most victims left to deal with the trauma on their own, for life. It would be naïve to think of this as an isolated incident in the world of sport.
The most chilling testimony came from another pro footballer Chris Unworth, who recalled having accepted Bennell’s abuse as “what I had to do to become a football star”. It showcased the vulnerability of a young kid with starry eyes who’s prepared to endure whatever it takes to achieve his dream. While Unsworth admitted to having realised that what Bennell was doing to him was wrong, it’s very likely that most of his fellow victims were simply too scared to go public on their torment. These are, after all, impressionable kids away from their families at camps and academies for months on end with their coaches and managers the only adults around them.
While sport is riddled with many ills, from corruption to unfair practices, administrators worldwide need to acknowledge child sex abuse as the gravest. It will help if more Woodwards and Unworths step out of the darkness and silence that they have been plunged into by those who were supposed to play the role of mentors and guardians.