“We would like to think that in situations where harm is said to have been done under the auspices of a particular organisation or club this would be responded to directly, humanely, sympathetically and with a strong sense of justice. Acknowledgement is a start…”
These words are taken from an SFA-commissioned review into sexual abuse in Scottish football following allegations of historical abuse, spanning decades.
The damning report, published in 2018, found that victims who were abused by football officials were put off coming forward because their accounts were often challenged, and it stressed the importance of properly acknowledging their responsibility.
It led to the chief executive of the Scottish FA, Ian Maxwell, issuing an apology for the “abhorrent” abuse suffered by young people under its care in the past and a promise to make “significant strides” in addressing the issues raised.
So when Stuart McMillan, a sexual abuse survivor, approached the SFA, he had every reason to expect that he would be treated with humility and respect, not least because the man who abused him was a known suspected paedophile.
Instead, not only was he denied compensation but his account of being abused by referee Hugh Stevenson on his way home from an official SFA event was diminished and ultimately dismissed for reasons as spurious as it having happened when the official was off-duty.
The night Stuart was abused, he was feeling proud that he was going to his first “grown-up function”. It was his first step on the road to adulthood but in many ways his life was stalled.
Like many victims he kept the incident a secret, partly out of shame and partly to protect his family from experiencing any of the hurt he was carrying on his young shoulders. For decades it ate away at his confidence and infected his closest relationships.
By the time he felt strong enough to seek justice, his attacker had passed away. He hoped the closure he desperately needed could come from an acknowledgment from the SFA and compensation for the decades of distress he had endured.
Sadly the response he received illustrates the attitude to historic cases as outlined in the full SFA report, published in February. It said victims told the review it was inferred that they had made up accounts in order to obtain compensation. It added: “This attempt to undermine their credibility and disregard the impact they have endured is unacceptable and constitutes a serious wrong.”
We don’t know how many more victims are still keeping their secret, and stories like Stuart’s will not encourage more to come forward.
The SFA needs to make good its promise to heal the hurts of the past, instead of pouring salt into old wounds.
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