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Released On 21st Feb 2017

Sexual abuse in sport - the latest arena to hit the headlines

Britain rides the crest of a sporting wave.  The Olympics in Rio were a tremendous advert to our sporting talent.  However, for every Gold medal winner there are legions of youngsters involved in sport that never quite make it.  Indeed, does sport now have a darker side to it?

What was once taken for granted as a healthy and rewarding pastime, sport has been the subject of scrutiny following revelations by those who were abused in sports clubs.

National and well known football clubs have recently been affected by allegations of historical child sexual abuse.  The number of affected clubs in both the amateur and professional game has risen by 100 over the past few months, according to figures released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.  There are now almost 250 clubs involved in the scandal as the scale of the abuse continues to grow. 

Police Operation Hydrant was set up in 2014 as a coordination hub to deal with historic abuse cases.  To date it has received 1,016 referrals from the NSPCC’s dedicated football hotline and police forces around the country.  This figure continues to rise, up from 819 before Christmas.  The Operation has so far identified 184 suspects and 526 potential victims, of whom 97% are male, with an age range from four to 20 when the alleged abuse took place.

Funded by the Football Association, the NSPCC hotline was set up in early December and is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.  The FA has also instigated an independent review, led by Clive Sheldon QC, into its handling of abuse allegations in the years before 2005.

Most of the referrals relate to football but there are victims from amongst others rugby, gymnastics, tennis, swimming and golf.  In total 22 other sports have been implicated.

An NSPCC report, entitled “In at the Deep End”, was compiled using case files from the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA), on the 78 coaches accused by children of abuse between January 1997 and February 2001.  It found sexual abuse occurred in 68% of the complaints, the study says.

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has a 'Safe and Inclusive Tennis' team to respond to all cases and work with external agencies, including the police and the NSPCC.

At least 368 gymnasts in the United States have alleged some form of sexual abuse over the past 20 years.  The nine-month investigation into police files and court documents found hundreds of cases of alleged sexual abuse by a total of 115 coaches and other adults they worked with, and systematic failures which enabled accused coaches to relocate to other gyms. Nearly all the victims were girls.  That type of abuse will inevitably be present in the UK. 

The reason sexual abuse is prevalent in sporting clubs is that paedophiles are drawn there.  Parents are usually not present.  Coaches are left unsupervised.  The children are in a vulnerable position and often desperate to be noticed to advance in their sport.  Coaching requires a hands-on approach and inappropriate touching can quickly lead to more serious abuse.

If you were sexually abused by your sports coach, you may be able to claim financial compensation.  This may apply even if the abuse happened many years ago and the abuser has since died.  Compensation is usually claimed for:

1.  The abuse itself.

2.  Any mental illness that arises because of the abuse.

3.  Loss of earnings if you’ve suffered a psychological illness because of the abuse and you can’t work.

4.  The costs of private counselling or therapy and other special expenses.

Robsonshaw solicitors specialise in sexual abuse claims and have successfully represented victims abused within a range of sports.  Since the latest avalanche of allegations within football, we are now representing numerous footballers.  Partner Robert Shaw explains the different ways you might get compensation and the possible pitfalls.  You could claim compensation from:-

1.  The abuser if they have sufficient assets to warrant suing

2.  The organisation or club where the abuse took place

3.  The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (or CICA)

We would always recommend that you report your abuse to the police as the perpetrator should be brought to justice for their wrongdoing.  You may not be the only victim and reporting your abuse may prevent someone else being abused.  The police may have intelligence upon the abuser and your information may be invaluable.  Plus in order to make a CICA claim, the CICA require applicants to report the matter to the police before a claim can be submitted.

Suing the Abuser

The person that caused the abuse is the guilty party and they should expect to pay compensation to their victims.

However, often the perpetrator has died, particularly if the abuse happened years ago or they simply may not have enough assets to pay a proper amount of compensation. 

Insurance policies are very unlikely to cover perpetrators for abuse claims.  Before we advise anyone to sue a perpetrator we will always undertake Probate Registry searches to see if the perpetrator is alive or has left a Will.  If they are a property owner, we will check with the Land Registry and find out if there is a mortgage or other owners on the title.  The property may be sold to pay compensation. 

Suing the Club or Organisation

Often sexual abuse took place at sporting clubs or by coaches who were employed by a club. 

If so, it may be possible sue the club or organisation under the principle of vicarious liability.  Vicarious liability is a long-standing legal principle where in certain circumstances, an employer is held liable for the wrongdoing of its employee.  The fact that the employer itself has not committed any wrong is irrelevant.  The employer is likely to be insured for such claims.

For instance, a swimming coach who sexually abuses children at a swimming club may give rise to a claim against the swimming club.  Likewise, the police have seen a huge rise in the number of allegations of sexual abuse involving young footballers. 

Recent developments in the doctrine of vicarious liability following the Supreme Court cases of Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc and Cox v Ministry of Justice have widened the potential liability of sports clubs for the actions of their employees.  However, there are limits to the principle and careful advice is needed.

Suing the club or organisation is often much more straightforward than suing the abuser.  However, whether the abuser or the club is sued, there are strict time limits. 


The CICA is a Government funded organisations set up to compensate the blameless victims of violent crime of which sexual abuse is an obvious example. 

Unlike a civil claim, the CICA make payments according to a published tariff.  Whereas it is possible to obtain an award for psychological injury the level of pay-out is generally less than for a civil claim.  Loss of earnings compensation is also now very difficult to obtain under the 2012 CICA scheme. 

However, as the CICA is Government funded, provided you meet the eligibility criteria and are entitled to an award, you know you will be paid eventually.  Recently published data states that the CICA are now taking on average 20 months from the date of the application to make a payment.

The CICA also has strict time limits, plus if you have an unspent criminal conviction you are unlikely to be able to claim an award, or it may be reduced.  An application must be received as soon as reasonably possible after the abuse, and in any event within two years.  However, where the applicant was under 18 when the abuse took place and it has already been reported to the police then the application must be received by their 20th birthday.  If the abuse was not reported to the police until after the applicant’s 18th birthday then an Application must be made within two years reporting it to the police. 

Solicitors at Robsonshaw have been specialising in sex abuse compensation claims for the past 17 years.  If you or a family member would like advice on a free, no obligation, confidential basis, please contact Robert Shaw on his direct dial, 01392 345332 or email him on robert@robsonshaw.uk.

Tags: Child abuse, sexual abuse