In one of the most shameful exposes in sports history, footballers are coming forward one by one to blow the whistle on long-running sex abuse in professional clubs in England. Former players are talking about the existence of paedophile rings where many of them were abused as children.
It began after Andy Woodward went public on television saying a former coach at a football club had abused him when he was young. Soon, others started speaking out — grown men, tough as teak, cried like kids as they remembered the abuse and stripped off the band-aid they had put to wounds sustained years ago. It showed that clubs too, had swept things under the carpet and did not act to stop the abuse.
There are lessons we can take away from this crisis. First, it is all-important to listen to children when they say something is wrong. Don’t dismiss their claims as trivial, and certainly don’t hide them because you are scared. The ramifications are huge for the victim, and if you plan to bury it even though you can help, you are complicit in the crime.
Next, we must realise that boys are as vulnerable to abuse as girls. If anything, there is greater pressure on them to keep it hush-hush because of society taboos and the tough-guys-don’t-cry stereotype.
Finally, and most importantly perhaps, is the fact that even if abuse is reported years later, it does not mean that it did not happen. There is a tendency to question victims about why they did not speak up earlier. There are many factors that hold victims back. Like the fear that nobody will believe them. Or, that they will be laughed at, or the abuser is simply too powerful to be brought to justice.
This is beyond football, or sports. This is about life, and we need to learn from this mistake.