Herman Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out, has warned against assuming the bullying and discrimination that former youth-team prospects at Chelsea allege they were subjected to is the scourge of a bygone era.
Ouseley claimed young players throughout the game were still being routinely discriminated against even if the abuse may not be as horrific as that claimed to have been inflicted by the Chelsea coaches Graham Rix and Gwyn Williams. Speaking in a personal capacity, Ouseley called on the organisations that govern the game, including the Premier League and the Football Association, to unite and provide a “drastic” solution to the problem of players feeling they have no appropriate whistleblowing or grievance procedure. “I’m aware there are many people in the professional realms of football who are governed by the fear of challenging the managers and coaches where things are happening,” Ouseley said. “Although it’s much better than it used to be, the fear is still there.
“We’re doing exceptional work at Kick It Out in academies but the fact is people will still be fearful of challenging things that are said because they don’t want to ruin the opportunity they have to go on to be successful players.
“Somewhere along the line the Premier League, the Football League, the FA and the PFA need to come together and say: ‘We are going to eliminate this now with radical, drastic action. We are going to guarantee the mechanisms are there so no individual should be fearful, so they know where to go to get help to resolve whatever the situation is.’”
Three former youth-team footballers at Chelsea have launched legal claims against the club after allegations black players were subjected to horrific racism by Rix and Williams, who have denied “all and any allegations of racial or other abuse”. A police investigation was launched but after seven months it was deemed there was insufficient evidence to take any action. However, Chelsea began their own inquiry and the FA’s safeguarding officials have interviewed two of the players. Among the alleged abuse is that during a youth-team fixture in Spain, Rix humiliated one of the black outfield players by substituting him with the reserve goalkeeper. As the player was showering afterwards, it is claimed Rix shouted: “If his heart was as big as his cock, he would be a great player that ran more”.
The former Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair, however, was shocked by the allegations. “After knowing Gwyn Williams from the age of 11 as a schoolboy and throughout my career both Gwyn Williams and Graham Rix played integral parts in the development of my football career, I also saw Gwyn as a father figure in my life and find this hard to read,” he said.
Ouseley said his “gut feeling” was that young players are still in fear of revealing the truth about abuse because of the power exercised by coaches over their future careers.
“Clearly what is referred to in the article is something that should be of another era and to a large extent it is but, if we think that it’s gone away, it hasn’t,” he said. “Young people who go into football want to become professional footballers and, if they’re with a club, they’re not going to do anything they think will damage their opportunity. So things go unchallenged and it’s only in later life you feel able to challenge it.
“It’s a shame the evidence isn’t there for the police to deal with but it’s good the FA and the club are investigating in this case.”