Leader: Football must look again at child protection

The onslaught of allegations about historic sex abuse within football have rocked the sport, sending ripples off the pitch and into wider society.

Since former Sheffield United player Andy Woodward told of the appalling abuse he suffered at the hands of convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, each day seems to bring fresh revelations of the cancer lying at the very heart of football.

Woodward and three other former professionals waived their right to anonymity to share their stories and yesterday two youth players spoke of the abuse they endured.

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Sadly these shocking stories are likely to just be the start.

Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner Tam Baillie said he was bracing himself for large number of people to come forward across all sports.

It takes immense courage to go public with these very personal stories and the footballers who have done so are to be applauded.

They may also have lifted a lid on a problem that is much bigger than anyone was previously aware.

The players can take solace from the fact that talking about what happened to them will help others but the experience of reliving such a distressing episode will take its toll on their lives.

Sadly, football has long been fertile ground for abuse. The adults in charge have the power to deliver a child’s dreams - a position that can easily be exploited.

“I knew what I wanted to get [from football], and I thought this is what I had to go through. I knew it was wrong but I just went with it,” said Chris Unsworth.

Top-level sport is an area where children can be vulnerable. Changing rooms and physical exercises provide opportunities for abuse, as well as long coach trips and overnight stays.

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Children are better protected than before, with the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme in Scotland ensuring that adults who come into contact with children are vetted. But that will not stop the first-time abuser or one not on the radar.

Football is also better regulated than ever before. But in such a huge sport, where countless age-group teams exists packed with youngsters hoping to make the break into the senior game, the opportunity to get access to youngsters is always there.

And we should not forget that this is not just football - many other sports and clubs fall into the same category.

Tragically, it is often left to children to report what happened. This is where we go wrong.

Too many adults will be looking back this week and thinking of situations and individuals who they had concerns about years ago but said nothing about at the time.

Football has to look again at how it protects children and how people can raise concerns about adults.

If strong suspicions are only substantiated many years later when a victim finds the courage to speak out as an adult, then we have let down every child who was in the adult’s charge.