It is nearly a week since both the FA and Manchester City Football Club published their respective reports into abuse within football. A week of high-profile reaction, condemnation, and various calls to action. This is understandable – the abuse that survivors endured as children within the football system was horrifying and the failure to protect them will be an enduring stain. At the same time, NAPAC believes that there is reason to recognise the positive aspects of these reports and be hopeful for the future.
Both the FA and the Manchester City have put survivors front and centre of their respective reports. This is not tokenism. Clive Sheldon, who led the FA investigation, and his team met personally with many survivors and the final report includes ‘voices’ of survivors. These are short extracts, approved by survivors themselves, of their experiences and they ‘convey some of the pain and suffering experienced by the victims of abuse, whose dreams were shattered by the actions of their abusers’. For Manchester City, more than 150 witnesses and survivors were interviewed as part of their review and they insisted on a ‘survivor first’ approach as an unshakeable guiding principle.
There is a difference between doing the right thing and doing the right thing really well. There was a striking response from both the FA and Manchester City after Andy Woodward and several other former players came forward to talk publicly in 2016 about the dreadful sexual abuse they had suffered at grassroots and professional football clubs when they were children. The absence of defensiveness. The overriding desire to seek the truth and provide support and reparation to survivors. Not putting their institutional reputations first, as we have seen so many times from other organisations.
As well as commissioning their respective reviews, the FA and Manchester City took concrete steps to demonstrate their support to survivors:
- Former FA chairman Greg Clarke and Head of Safeguarding Sue Ravenlaw started meeting survivors who expressed a desire to meet immediately. In each of these meetings, Greg Clarke personally apologised for the appalling abuse that these survivors had experienced in a football context.
- The FA funded a therapeutic service for survivors of non-recent child sexual abuse early in 2017, partnering with Sporting Chance. Support from the FA continues to be offered via several routes, including meetings with the Chairman, via the FA Benevolent Fund, and through the PFA Survivor Support Advocacy service.
- In March 2019, Manchester City launched the ‘Manchester City FC Survivors’ Scheme’ to offer compensation, paid counselling, and personal apologies – face-to-face where preferred by the survivors. This scheme is offered to eligible survivors as an alternative to often lengthy, costly and arduous litigation processes. The apologies continue to be made directly to those survivors by a senior Board Director and the scheme remains open for applications until 31 August 2021.
This matters. It matters that both the FA and Manchester City fully accepted the findings and recommendations of their respective independent reviews. And it matters that this sets a standard for other sporting organisations to follow. No one should be complacent here; at NAPAC we regularly hear from survivors on our telephone support line and by email about the abuse they suffered in sporting environments such as swimming, gymnastics, judo, and others. It is more than time for other organisations to proactively examine what went on in the past, to listen and learn from survivors, and to enforce change. Survivors deserve no less.
FA Independent Review into Child Sexual Abuse in Football 1970-2005 – Clive Sheldon QC’s independent report into allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse in football (thefa.com)
Manchester City statement from Directors and link to Mulcahy Review – Statement from Manchester City FC Board of Directors (mancity.com)