Reputation and safety to the fore as Barry Bennell could become the Jimmy Savile of football

Savile triggered a crisis at the BBC - with allegations of cover-ups - and police investigations into similar abuse by other celebrities of his era. The same could now engulf football.

The Barry Bennell sexual abuse scandal could engulf football, argues Julian Eccles (┬ęThinkstockphotos)
Bennell has already been convicted for serial paedophile offences. But the true scale of his activity is only now coming to light.

After England players’ day-off antics it is the latest shadow to be cast over our national game and one to which the authorities seem to be responding well. 

Others could learn from it.

The FA immediately set up a new helpline with the NSPCC and reaffirmed its commitment to safeguarding child safety.  

The police have appealed for more victims of such abuse in football to come forward.

These days there are strict "Disclosure and Barring" regulations for adults involved in youth football as in other sports.  

But as a first-aider for my teenage son’s rugby team, I have a DBS certificate but received no specific training.

Codes and best practice are now widely shared, but the legacy of historic abuse remains.

Bennell and Crewe may be in the spotlight now, but there will be many other individuals and clubs at all levels who are likely to face investigation.

So football, along with all other sports, cultural and religious groups, will be reappraising their practices urgently. 

It is a key reputation issue.

It is almost inevitable there will be other Bennells. They will be exposed by victims emboldened by the testimonies of the footballers and the overwhelmingly sympathetic reaction to them.

So other organisations will think about how they communicate their responsibility to admit to failings of the past and invite victims to come forward now.

To be credible they need to be seen to be actively encouraging former players, even decades later, to come forward and provide evidence to allow the authorities to investigate perpetrators.

Successful campaigns will not only address the historic abuse but promote the effective implementation of current regulations governing adult supervision of children. 

The salience of the issue should be the catalyst for reinforcing a culture of observing appropriate behaviour. Rules by themselves are inadequate without rigorous enforcement and frequent communication.

Parents need reassurance before they sign their children up to the local football, rugby or swimming club. 

This week, many mums and dads will now hesitate before letting their sons and daughters join their squads.

In a week when a report highlighted British children are among the least active in the world, sports organisations need to make their safety a communications priority.

Bennell’s victims are courageous survivors. Their bravery now needs to be rewarded by sport as whole by enforcing and promoting even more widely child safety measures, admitting to, and apologising for, horrific failures of the past and helping bring historic offenders to justice. 

Julian Eccles is a former director of comms at The FA and was a special adviser at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport 

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