Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th February 2021.

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Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report of the independent review of sexual abuse in Scottish football. (S5T-02658)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The report provides appalling and harrowing testimonies of historical sexual abuse and it will be shocking for anyone who reads it, including those who follow Scottish football. I commend the courage of all the individuals who came forward to tell their stories. The independent review found that most of the people who suffered sexual abuse did not tell anyone else at the time and that on the rare occasions when it was reported to organisations or clubs little or no action was taken. That is tremendously distressing and has had a profound and long-lasting impact on those who were abused.

The review accepts that knowledge and practices were markedly different in the past than they are now and recognises the recent efforts of the Scottish Football Association and its members to put in place a child protection and wellbeing strategy. It makes clear that continuing culture change is imperative. That includes continuing to work closely with those affected to improve processes, thereby challenging distorted thinking about sexual conduct or violence and creating positive attitudes to mental health. We fully support those aims.

We also support the work of police and prosecutors in investigating allegations to bring perpetrators to justice. A number of individuals responsible have now been convicted and sentenced and there are also live criminal and civil proceedings still on-going. We encourage anyone who has experienced sexual abuse to come forward, if they feel comfortable doing so, to access the help available to them.

The safety and wellbeing of all children and young people is paramount, as is ensuring that victims of abuse are supported through the justice system and beyond. We will carefully—but with urgency—consider the report and we will continue to engage with the Scottish FA and other key partners to ensure that the findings are acted on.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that detailed response. As she alluded to, the report is very detailed. It contains 97 recommendations, all of which are substantial. They include a proposed raft of measures to improve and enhance safeguarding, wellbeing and protection policies and procedures at all levels of the game.

There are also specific recommendations. One is to consider setting up a fund to support and assist those affected. How important does the minister think it is that those recommendations are implemented by the football authorities, and will the Scottish Government offer support to implement them where appropriate?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

What the member said is absolutely right. It is vital that those recommendations are implemented by football authorities. I am encouraged by the Scottish FA’s initial response to the report.

I am sure that the individuals affected by this and their families would absolutely agree with that. They will be watching to ensure that robust and meaningful action is taken.

Given that the report is lengthy and there are a lot of complex and sensitive issues in it, we will consider it very carefully. However, I also want to highlight the urgency with which we will undertake that work.

I recognise that the nature of the issues raised means that they cut across a number of other areas. Therefore, I will discuss with my ministerial colleagues, as well as other partners, what more can be done to ensure that all possible steps are taken.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

As the minister said, some of the testimonies recorded in the report are harrowing to say the least. They include that of Mr Malcolm Rodger

, who is from my constituency. Those involved were children who were forced to experience the most horrific abuse while playing the game they loved. Most of us will never be able to imagine the permanent scarring that that will have caused to survivors.

Recommendation 1 of the report is that the clubs and organisations involved should offer an “unequivocal and unreserved” apology to those who have been affected. How important is it that those apologies are made sincerely, and that they are made directly where that is possible, so that the individuals who were abused can find at least some closure for the trauma that they were subjected to?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Fulton MacGregor is right. The testimonies in the report are harrowing.

The review makes it clear that all organisations and clubs that failed young people in the past should apologise. That is the least that the individuals and families who were impacted can expect. I welcome the comments by the Scottish FA chief executive, Ian Maxwell, who said:

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

I know that some clubs have also now apologised in response to the report or have expressed regret about what happened.

The abuse that those young people were subjected to was abhorrent. I can only imagine the impact that it has had on them and on their families. Any clubs where young people suffered such abuse should apologise, and they should do so unreservedly.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Does the minister agree that the Scottish Government investigation into historical sexual abuse in care settings and the compensation scheme that has emerged from that, although extremely welcome, is discriminatory against those who have suffered similar horrendous abuse in other settings such as sport and education, and that it may contravene the human rights of those in that situation? Does she agree that an investigation and compensation scheme should be expanded to include all those who have suffered such abuse in other settings?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The member raises a number of issues and I would be happy to respond to him in more detail.

There are many recommendations in the report that we are discussing. We are carefully considering many complex issues, some of which cut across other areas of Scottish Government responsibility. We will work urgently to respond and to take action.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

I first called for a review of sexual abuse in Scottish football back in 2016. I am delighted that the long-awaited report has now been published. I pay tribute to all those who campaigned on the matter.

Although I warmly welcome the SFA’s report, we must now see it drive positive change throughout football.

What steps can be taken by the SFA or by the Scottish Government to ensure that football clubs take full responsibility for the abuse that happened on their watch, and that they are not allowed to escape that responsibility? Some may try to claim that the boys club connected to their club is not connected to them, or they may say that the club in which the abuse was committed went into liquidation and that it is no longer the responsibility of the existing club. Warm words are fine, but the clubs must take responsibility.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I reiterate that it is of paramount importance for the Scottish Government to ensure that every child can play football—or any other sport—in a safe and secure environment.

Football is now a very different environment. Strong progress has been made in recent years. However, the review demonstrates the terrible human cost of getting things wrong. I believe that the Scottish FA is determined to do all it can to address the issues in the report. As I said in my response to Fulton MacGregor, I am encouraged by the SFA’s initial response. Some clubs have also made statements apologising for historical abuse.

As I said, we will work with the SFA and with other key organisations and partners to ensure that all necessary steps are taken. Given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues, and the need to carefully consider Martin Henry’s long and detailed report, I cannot yet give a timescale for that work. We recognise that time has elapsed since the interim report was published and that urgency is now required. We are working on that.