Hundreds of child sexual abuse allegations against British soccer clubs have led to an investigation

They say soccer unites the world, but a recent investigation has turned up almost 350 child sex abuse allegations in British soccer clubs. On Tuesday, Crewe Alexandra Football Club coach Barry Bennell was charged with eight offenses of sexually abusing boys under 14 years old. Leading up to Bennell’s charges, 350 men called to report abuse across many football clubs, so the alleged abuse is more widespread than just Bennell and Crewe Alexandra. Because of the sheer volume of complaints, the British Football Association is launching an independent investigation to see if there are more cases.

In a statement released Thursday, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Child Protection chief constable, Simon Bailey, said, “It is important to note that this is an indicative figure only, and that information is still being collated, numbers will, therefore, continue to change. We are working closely with the Football Association to ensure that the response to this significant and growing number of victims, at all levels of football, is coordinated effectively.”

Bailey added, “We continue to encourage those who have been the victim of child sexual abuse to report it, regardless of how long ago the abuse may have taken place. We will listen and treat all reports sensitively and seriously. Anyone with any information regarding child sexual abuse is also urged to come forward.”

This is a very big deal, since almost every kid in England (probably) plays soccer.

Luckily, the football association seems to be taking these allegations seriously and is ready to put an end to it. The English Football Association president, Martin Glenn, said in a statement that “action will be taken against any club found guilty of ‘hushing up’ victims of a growing scandal in British soccer. Glenn also said that he “doubts” there have been coverups, but “if the FA has made errors, we will own up to them, as must the rest of football if avoidable errors have been made.”

The men coming forward are all in their 40s. One former professional British soccer player, Andy Woodward, spoke about the alleged abuse he suffered. “My life has been ruined until the age of 43,” Woodward told The Guardian. “But how many others are there? I’m talking about hundreds of children who Barry Bennell cherry-picked for various football teams and who now, as adults, might still be living with that awful fear.” Woodward chillingly added, “It was the softer, weaker boys he targeted.”

There are 10 other suspects authorities are investigating, along with Bennell. One, though, was a coach in the 1970s and is now dead. So, authorities will run into obstacles in their attempts to charge or prosecute some of the offenders. Hopefully though, the investigation can help alleged victims heal — even if it is long overdue.