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Soccer sex abuse scandal: Report is ‘kick in the teeth’ for survivors




It’s a career to be proud of, but Stewart’s memories are often consumed by the horrific daily cruelty he says he suffered between the ages of 11 and 15 as a youth football player.

This week, Stewart says he hoped to find solace in the independent review by prominent lawyer Clive Sheldon, commissioned by the Football Association (FA), about the scandal.

Instead, he says survivors of this sexual abuse have suffered “another kick in the teeth” after publishing a report detailing the “major institutional failures” of English football authorities.

Stewart told CNN that the findings have left victims angry and disappointed when they sought closure and vindication after decades of life affected by painful memories of abuse.

“That was commissioned by the FA, it was paid for by the FA and we’ll be disappointed, right?” Stewart told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell. “They will not fully hold hands and will be responsible for what happened.”

In Sheldon’s review, which was commissioned by the FA in 2016 after several former footballers showed up to discuss their experiences of sexual abuse in the game, it was noted that the FA showed “significant institutional failures” in delaying the introduction of and sufficient child protection measures “between October 1995 and May 2000.

The report also noted that “there is no evidence that the FA knew that there was a serious or systemic problem of child sexual abuse at play in England and no evidence that the FA had known that this problem existed” before the summer of 1995.

But after speaking with many of the other survivors since the review was published, Stewart says they reject that conclusion.

“Before 95, there was no guilt in any of the clubs, in any of the establishments because they said no one was speaking out,” he says.

“However, these people have made it clear that they were talking to coaches, that they were talking to club staff and that the report refuses to validate it, in fact, it ignores the fact that they say it. It has caused a lot of tension to many of my colleagues “.

Paul Stewart and Andy Woodward showed up in 2016 to publicly reveal their childhood trauma.

Stewart says the abuse he suffered as a child – “very, very soon … for a sustained period of four years” – has clouded his vision of his outstanding achievements.

“On paper it looks like I had a really good football career,” he says. “But I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it at all.

“I was so good at acting, it looked like I was a successful footballer, but inside I had an empty soul. I was dying and behind closed doors, I was fighting, really, really fighting.”

CNN was contacted to comment on Stewart and others who were disappointed with the report, the FA referred to its statement published earlier this week.

In the statement, Mark Bullingham, chief FA executive, said the launch of the review was a “dark day for the beautiful game” in which “we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and make sure we do our best to prevent them from repeating itself “.

Bullingham added: “I have had the privilege of meeting some survivors, whose courage is inspiring and the stories are incredibly moving. They will never forget what happened to them and this report will ensure that the game will never be forgotten either.”

“So today I’m going directly to the survivors, because they’re the people who matter most. I tell them, ‘You have the deepest admiration for the FA. Your courage throughout this process has been incredible. Your voices have been so powerful.

“I would like to start by apologizing on behalf of the Football Association and the English Game to all the survivors, that this has happened to you within football. No child should have ever experienced the abuse you did.” .

Victims of abuse of former football coach Barry Bennell, who was sentenced to 31 years in prison in 2018 by the judge who called him


When he was a Crewe Alexandra player Andy Woodward revealed in 2016 that he had been subjected to horrific abuse when he was a child at the hands of a pedophile and a football scout Barry Bennell, forced Stewart to talk about his own experience.

“I knew that after playing for some of the biggest clubs in the UK and playing for my country, I knew the story would gain strength,” Stewart says.

As for the solidarity the victims have felt, Stewart says, “I didn’t expect the tsunami of individuals that occurred. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. But, you know, I was as shocked as everyone when it came nationally and globally.

“There were so many young footballers who had suffered the same as me, and their dream was the same, to be a footballer.”

The stories of Woodward and Stewart, among others, led the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the FA to establish a hotline for footballers who had experienced sexual abuse. According to The Guardian, the first week received more than 800 calls.

Before the end of the year, the FA had commissioned the independent review of child sexual abuse in football 1970-2005.

After four years of waiting, delayed by rising allegations against Woodward aggressor Bennell, who was jailed in 2018 for 31 years at Liverpool Crown Court for 50 offenses of child sexual abuse, the report of 710 pages was published this week.

“In my view,” Sheldon said in the review, “from October 1995 to May 2000, the FA acted too slowly to introduce adequate and sufficient child protection measures and to ensure that protection it was taken seriously by those involved in the game. These are important failures for which there is no excuse. ”

The review found that there were at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors of sexual abuse in football as of August 2020.

Paul Stewart had a career at the top of English football, playing in his home country, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City.

Dream creators

In Stewart’s time as a young footballer, he says he felt powerless to stop the abuse he suffered as the person doing the damage oversaw the progression of his career.

Pedophiles in sport, he said, position themselves as “dream creators” with the ability to fulfill a child’s ambition, giving them the ability to perpetuate the abuse.

“There are a lot of reasons you don’t say anything,” Stewart says.

“There were threats that I would kill my parents and kill my siblings, there were the gifts, but I guess the fundamental reason you don’t pronounce is because you really believe that coach has the power in his hands to give and take the only one you ever want to be, who to me was a footballer.

“When I was little, the concern that this coach had the power to give and take away that dream was why he was able to abuse me during the time I was doing it. And I think that’s the same thing in a lot of sports.”

Stewart now works with the English Football League giving protective advice to young players, coaches and their families.

What he says are the only positive aspects of the Sheldon report are 13 recommendations to increase protection in sport, which will add “another layer to the protection that already exists.”

Still, he cares about the basics of the game.

“You have volunteers who are usually in charge of protection,” he says. “Now, these people have jobs and some of our grassroots football clubs have more than 1,500 boys, boys and girls. And they may only have one safeguard agent.

“These people [abusers] we operate in these areas and, although we have come a long way, we must not sit on our laurels, we must not be pleased. ”

Stewart does admit that football, because of the money in the game, is in the best position to implement child protection measures. Other sports, as it has been recently is shown with the revelations of sexual abuse in gymnastics – they are also vulnerable.

On his own journey, Stewart finds comfort in the work he does helping young people.

Speaking to CNN, Stewart did not name his assailant, but has done so in previous interviews.

His assailant died in Manchester in 2005. Although his family was devastated as this prevented the possibility of retribution, he was determined to move on.

“I had been 42 years where this aggressor had affected my life and I refused to allow it to affect me more,” Stewart says.

“I’m 56 now, and in the few years I can have, I’d like to think that somehow I can find some consolation, and I do it for the work I do with the football league.”

He added: “I wish I had someone when I started in Blackpool who I thought I could go talk to, I think then I would have enjoyed my football career.”

According to a Blackpool statement published by the Blackpool Gazette, the club said it “praises the courage of those who came forward to share their experiences with Mr Sheldon and his team and the club expresses its sincere sympathy to those who have suffered abuse. ”

The English Premier League said it was “deeply saddened” by the content of the review and that “our thoughts are on all those affected”, while the English Football League said the review “illustrates the devastating impact”. who has had child abuse in football over survivors and continues to have it in their daily lives. ”