Boy soccer players being put at risk

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The Independent Online
Football-mad boys are being put in "potentially dangerous situations" where they could be abused by the people who train them, according to a Channel 4 programme to be screened tonight.

An investigation by Dispatches says that the hold coaches have over their school-age proteges - the chance of a career in professional football - can give them the opportunity to abuse boys for years with little fear of discovery.

One former coach, Barry Bennell, who worked at Manchester City, Stoke City and Crewe Alexandra is currently serving four years in a United States prison after admitting buggery and assault on a boy.

Another amateur club, Ipswich Saracens, found that their coach Keith Ketley was a convicted sex offender. Despite this he had been able to set up another team with Football Association affiliation. He is now serving five years in jail after being found guilty on four counts of indecent assault.

In Bennell's case, four other boys, now in their 20s, came forward to police after his arrest and he may face charges when he is deported from the US.

One of the boys was Ian Ackley, who played for a Derbyshire side coached by Bennell. "Looking back on the things that have happened [I have] lots of regrets really," he said. "It reminds me very much of the control he had basically over people. And how he very much had people in his grip."

Manchester City did receive a letter of complaint from one family when Bennell took the squad to a holiday camp, about the fact that their sons were staying late in Bennell's bedroom.

It was not until 1994 when Bennell took youth teams from Staffordshire on tour to Florida that a 13-year-old boy spoke out about the abuse he suffered and Bennell was arrested. He could only be charged with offences committed in the US.

Ketley had run a team in Southend-on-Sea, but after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting boys he was sentenced to 18 months. He moved to Ipswich, changed his name and started up another club.

Around 43,000 clubs are currently affiliated to the Football Association (FA). The chairman of Suffolk FA told the programme: "No checks would necessarily be made on their background unless we were particularly suspicious."

Because of such fears, Charlton Athletic has now established its own code of practice for coaches to avoid any fears of sexual abuse. The guidelines include always working in pairs, not offering to drive children on their own and not putting themselves in questionable situations.

Les Reed, Charlton's first team coach, says that with such a large number of children involved with adults there is a "potentially dangerous situation" and guidelines help protect both children and staff. "The FA needs to come out of the towers at Lancaster Gate and really investigate what is going on," he said.

A spokesman for the FA said that they were "strongly" in favour of child- protection legislation being introduced and had written to the Home Secretary to emphasise this.

"The FA has been a prime mover among sporting governing bodies to get an effective screening process which aids child protection," he said. "[It] is committed to what could be a pounds 1m-plus programme of screening all those involved in youth football

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