LONDON: A hotline established amid England’s growing football sex-abuse crisis received over 860 calls in its first week, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said Thursday. The helpline, supported by the Football Association, offers support to anyone sexually abused in football as a child, and received 50 calls within two hours of opening last week. “Helpline staff also made 60 referrals to police or social services in the first three days,” it said. That was more than triple the number of referrals made in the first three days of the helpline set up for victims of serial paedophile and late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. The scale of the abuse began to emerge after ex-football players Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart revealed last week the abuse they suffered at the hands of youth football coaches, and many more victims have since come forward. The hotline is backed by NSPCC ambassador Wayne Rooney, the England captain.
“It’s awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love,” he said. “It’s important that people know that it’s ok to speak out, there is help available and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.” Serial child molester Barry Bennell has been accused by at least 20 footballers of abusing them when he worked for Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke City across three decades beginning in the 1970s, and is subject to five separate police investigations. Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has called the developing scandal “the greatest crisis” he could recall in English football. Fifteen police forces across the country are investigating claims of sexual abuse in football.