Scottish football clubs ‘must apologise’ for historical sexual abuse

London (AFP) – Scottish football clubs should make an “unreserved” public apology to those who suffered historical child sex abuse, a report urged on Thursday.

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) commissioned a review in 2016 following an “unprecedented” number of allegations of sexual abuse, related mainly to the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

The review engaged directly with hundreds of people. Thirty-three provided personal accounts of their harrowing experiences including sexual abuse and rape.

Clubs including Rangers, Hibernian, Motherwell and Partick Thistle were all named in the testimonies, along with Celtic Boys Club. They related to people in various roles including coaching and scouting.

The Report of the Independent Review of Child Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football called on “all clubs and organisations involved to make a clear, unreserved, and public acknowledgement and apology to all those directly affected by the abuse”.

Review chairman Martin Henry said he hoped the publication would give victims a “sense of personal justice and vindication”.

“I am heartened by the progress made so far in Scottish football, but today should not be considered the end of this journey but a critical juncture to provide context to the work that is under way and which must continue,” he added.

The review found most of the young people who experienced sexual abuse did not report it to anyone else at the time, and in the majority of cases nobody in Scottish football knew about it.

However, it said this did not necessarily mean there was no “level of suspicion” among some in the game.

An interim report published in 2018 made 95 recommendations for change and improvement in the protection of young people.

The review said it was “encouraging” that the Scottish FA and its members had taken serious steps to deliver on many of its recommendations.

However it said it would be a “grave mistake” to believe sexual abuse in Scottish football was a “historical” issue, saying the risk remained.

It added culture change within football in Scotland was imperative, including challenging negative and harmful attitudes to mental health and challenging homophobic attitudes and behaviours.

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said he was “deeply upset” by the contents of the final report, in particular, by the traumatic experiences endured by young players.

“I reiterate my sincerest apology on behalf of Scottish football to all who have experienced abuse in our national game,” he added.

A spokesman for Hibernian said: “We would reiterate the view we have expressed in the past, commending the courage of all of the survivors who have come forward to raise this issue, and we deeply regret any suffering that those survivors have endured.”

In a lengthy statement, League One Thistle said: “We apologise sincerely on behalf of Partick Thistle to anyone personally affected by historic abuse within our game. We fully acknowledge the impact of these events and their enduring effect on those affected.”

Celtic, Rangers and Motherwell are yet to comment on the report.

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