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FIFA chief says ‘zero tolerance’ for sex abuse

FIFA President Gianni Infantino attends a media briefing after the FIFA Executive Football Summit in Singapore, on December 8, 2016 © AFP / Roslan RAHMAN

SINGAPORE, Singapore, Dec 8 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Thursday vowed “zero tolerance” for child sex abuse in football following an escalating scandal involving coaches and former players in England.

The world football chief said anyone found to have committed abuse should be banned from the sport “without question” and face criminal charges.

“There are few things in life, not just football life, worse than child (sex) abuse, so it has to be taken seriously,” he told reporters after a three-day FIFA summit in Singapore.

“There must be zero tolerance from a football perspective, but also a criminal perspective as well,” Infantino added.

“We probably have to look into that with more care and more attention in order to prevent any potential child abuse in the future,” he said.

Asked if he was worried the scandal would grow into a much bigger issue beyond just the English Football Association, Infantino said: “Certainly what we have to do is to have it taken very seriously, and that’s what we’re doing now… looking at it very, very seriously.”

Over the past three weeks, English football has been reeling from a series of allegations of sexual abuse of youth players at the hands of their coaches, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s.

About 20 former players have spoken out so far over allegations and the English FA has promised to investigate the claims.

According to reports, 55 clubs have been named to police and 18 different police forces across the country are investigating claims.

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The scandal blew up as former Crewe Alexandra youth scout Barry Bennell, a convicted paedophile, was charged with abusing players last week.

The FA chairman has said the scandal is the biggest crisis in the association that he can remember, according to media reports.

English Premier League club Chelsea have apologised to former player Gary Johnson for abuse he suffered in the 1970s, while QPR have said they are taking allegations made against former employee Chris Gieler “very seriously”, the reports said.

Ex-England star Matthew Le Tissier earlier this week became the highest profile former footballer to allege inappropriate behaviour involving children, saying he received “a really disgusting” naked massage from a former Southampton youth coach.

Le Tissier, who won 21 caps in his career, broke his silence saying he was given a massage as a youth player in which “everyone was kind of naked” and said Bob Higgins’s behaviour had made him feel uncomfortable.

“It’s very, very wrong,” the 48-year-old Le Tissier told the BBC.

“You kind of look back and think that it was wrong but, as a young boy, you kind of saw everybody else doing it and you thought, ‘Oh right. Is this normal?’

“Looking back, it’s really disgusting, I think.”

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