Child Sexual Abuse Soccer Scandal Rocks U.K.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Great Britain is aghast over a scandal involving sexual abuse in the country's youth soccer system. It unfolded when a former pro player, Andy Woodward, revealed this fall that he suffered repeated sexual abuse by a soccer coach that began when he was 11 years old. Since then, 20 other former professional players have come forward. The allegations are mostly from the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Nearly a hundred soccer clubs have been implicated. A special hotline has received more than 1,700 calls. Police are investigating 83 suspects.
Daniel Taylor is chief football writer for The Guardian, and he broke the story when he interviewed Andy Woodward. He joins us on the line. Thanks so much for being with us.
DANIEL TAYLOR: Pleasure.
SIMON: So I guess the story starts with Andy Woodward, but you began to hear immediately from others, didn't you?
TAYLOR: Yes. Well, I found the real common theme with a lot of these players is that they want to get it off their chest. Andy said to me the hardest thing that he found was that he'd been living with a secret. So I think a lot of these victims have found it almost therapeutic. And when I say that, I still - you know, they've still been going through a terrible time. But I think finding that they're not alone, that - you know, and they can talk about it, so I think it's almost a relief for a lot of them.
SIMON: We - for Americans, we need to understand how the institutional structures of soccer in the U.K. - the youth system feeds into the pro teams, right?
TAYLOR: That's correct. Yeah. Clubs take kids on from the age six - six or seven - upwards. And then basically if they're talented enough, they stay with it for 11 years or so before they actually make their debuts for the first team.
SIMON: I mean, I - a lot of us in the States kind of know the story of David Beckham. He played youth football for Man U, didn't he?
TAYLOR: Yeah, he did. And, I mean, one of the stories, actually, is a player who was in the year below Beckham. He's one of the players whose come forward throughout this story (ph). That was - that had nothing to do with Manch United, I should say, but he was at another club, and he was abused. And then when he went to Manch United, he was regarded, you know, as exceptionally talented, but because of what happened, he completely went off the rails. It's only now that it's come to light what it was inside this boy that made him lose this chance. You know, we're talking about someone who could have had a great career at the biggest club in England. Instead, he was kicked out of Manch United in the end, and, you know, he basically has nothing to do with football anymore.
SIMON: What kind of repercussions are possible, realistically?
TAYLOR: Well, The Football Association is holding an inquiry - an independent inquiry - that - they've brought in some legal experts just to have this investigation. And one of the things that's very high up in that is what people knew at the time - whether the clubs and whether the authorities knew more than maybe people realized - and what they did with that information. In other words, was there a cover-up? Was there - were there clubs at the time who received complaints and looked the other way.
SIMON: A lot of these allegations are from the '70s, '80s and '90s. Is there any reason to think that youth soccer is any different in the U.K. these days?
TAYLOR: Well, there are - there a lot more measures. There are lot more safeguarding measures, so yes that is the answer to that. I mean, it's certainly not watertight. I got a story last week about a club in the second division here in England called Barnsley where they'd been hiding from their academy system and not putting people for any checks. You know, if you want to work with children in any capacity - in school, a youth club - you have to be checked out, and you have to kind of, you know, be ticked off. And it's mandatory, you know, for football clubs in this club.
I've got suspicions. Probably, I mean, they got caught, and they have hold hands, if not admit, yeah, we've been cutting corners. But I've kind of got the suspicion that they probably wouldn't have been alone. Maybe that will change now. And maybe it's become such a big story here, clubs will be under a lot more pressure to make sure, you know, that they cannot dare take risks like that.
SIMON: Daniel Taylor at The Guardian, thanks so much for being with us.
TAYLOR: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.