Football: Child abuse in sport may be worldwide issue, says newly formed Trust for victims

MANCHESTER (AFP) - An independent body set up by former footballers to help victims of child abuse in the sport claimed the issue is a "global" problem, as they urged clubs to support the fight for justice.

The Offside Trust was launched in Manchester on Monday and will work separately from the Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association to support victims of abuse.

It was formed by Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Chris Unsworth, who all suffered sexual abuse while they were youth team players.

A fortnight ago, Woodward, 43, waived his anonymity to reveal he was abused at Crewe by coach, scout and serial paedophile Barry Bennell in the 1980s.

Since Woodward came forward the FA have launched an enquiry while 18 police forces in the Britain have begun investigations.

A special hotline set up by The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) received 860 calls in the space of a week, with allegations spanning four decades.

Woodward claimed at a press conference at Offside Trust's launch that there are likely to be victims of sexual abuse all around the world.

"This isn't just in this country. It's global," Woodward said. "I personally know in the United States there are certain things which have potentially happened there.

"It's just about reaching out to everyone and reaching out to the global side of things."

So far 20 former players have spoken out about abuse while in excess of 50 different clubs in the country have been linked to claims of abuse.

FA chairman Greg Clarke recently acknowledged that the scandal is one of the biggest crises that the governing body has faced.

Woodward admitted he did not know if there had been attempts to hush up cases of sexual abuse but hoped the newly formed body will be able to assist with therapy for victims.

"We want to fight for justice. We want justice, we all went through a terrible ordeal," he said.

"We want justice and reform, move forward so we can protect those children suffering in all walks of life, not just football, we want to protect them.

"My vision is to get together as a group and have group therapy to talk this out. I think when we have spoken in little groups we have felt so much better talking it though and not feeling like we are on our own."

On Sunday, Chelsea "apologised profusely" to Gary Johnson, who was sexually abused at the club in the 1970s.

In a statement, the club said he had "suffered unacceptably" while a youth team player.

However, Walters revealed that neither he nor Woodward have been contacted by Crewe since they decided to come forward.

"We've not even had an apology from the football club we were at. Which is in our opinion disgusting and upsetting," Walters said.

"Fair play to Chelsea, it is too little, too late, but they have put their apology out there in a sincere manner. Crewe, there's been nothing. Head in the sand. Let us suffer all our lives.

"Surely a football club who looked after children, surely it's their responsibility? A little statement, a bit of dignity.

"There's so many more. I'm getting phone calls every day off players who I've grown up with, there are so many. You won't believe how many are still to come out, honestly."

Walters also urged the wider football community - including high-profile players - to come on board and support Offside Trust, which will rely on donations from stakeholders including the FA, PFA, Football League and Premier League.

"In my opinion we need more high profile people in sport supporting this," he added.

"It's happening everywhere down the years. The bravado in football has to stop. We need more help, publicity and support from high-profile sports people."