PA Sport

Andy Woodward leaves Offside Trust but campaign gains momentum

Andy Woodward leaves Offside Trust but campaign gains momentum
By PA Sport

03/02/2017 at 23:06Updated 03/02/2017 at 23:13

The Offside Trust, the campaign group and charity set up to support victims of football's child sexual abuse scandal, is on the verge of announcing its future direction and funding but will do so without one of its three founders.

The trust was launched in Manchester in December by former professional footballers Steve Walters, Andy Woodward and Chris Unsworth.

It was Woodward's powerful interview with The Guardian in November that provided the catalyst for a process which has seen police receive more than 1,000 referrals in a UK-wide investigation, covering almost 250 clubs, with more than 500 potential victims and nearly 200 suspects.

But Woodward has now stepped away from the trust.

In a statement released to Press Association Sport, the trust said " great strides" have been made, with support from across the sporting landscape pouring in and talks progressing with advisors, charity experts, potential funders and governing bodies on the " optimum structure, governance and strategy" for the trust.

"This had led to a number of changes including the registered directors of the Offside Trust," the statement continued.

"Andy Woodward is no longer a director of the Trust but remains a key ambassador, supporter and friend.

"Everyone involved in the Offside Trust would like to put on record their wholehearted thanks to Andy for his enormous courage in coming forward and making public some of the darkest secrets in the football world.

"He will continue to play a key role in highlighting this issue and making sport safer for all children in the future. We look forward to working closely with Andy and other players who have shown such bravery in the last few weeks."

It is understood the split, as the statement explains, is amicable and Woodward will continue to be a vocal campaigner for improved safeguarding and victim support. He has also been working with US broadcaster HBO on a documentary.

His exit, though, leaves Unsworth and Walters as the main drivers of the trust, although additions to the team are expected in the coming weeks.

The trust has recently added an Instagram account to its fast-growing Twitter presence and has been working with Manchester-based marketing and PR company Tunafish Media on a new website. Talks are ongoing with the Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association about funding, and corporate backers have also offered help.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Walters said: "We want the game of football to make any victims out there - and I know of dozens and dozens who are still frightened to speak about what happened - feel comfortable enough so they can ask for help or talk to the police.

"The ultimate goal for the trust is to prevent any child from ever suffering abuse again, in any sport. We know that's ambitious, and probably highly unlikely, but we just want to use our experiences to make a huge difference. We have got a long way to go."

Walters has been working hard to get today's players and their clubs on board.

After a slow start, momentum is building, with recent supporters including David Beckham, Charlie Adam and Jordan Pickford, and today Jamie Vardy became the latest high-profile player to get behind the trust. More than 50 clubs from the men's and women's game have also expressed their support.

Until now, the trust has not asked for or received any money but Walters knows help is badly needed. With many victims keeping their experiences secret for so long, talking about what happened for the first time can be extremely difficult. The trust wants to help with counselling but also other forms of financial help, if required.

To give one example, Walters said some victims end up being signed off work for long periods, which can lead to money problems, the last thing a sufferer of abuse needs at a time of extreme vulnerability.

Walters also wants the trust to become a strong voice in the debate to improve child protection, which will include holding sports governing bodies to account and lobbying government for stricter penalties for paedophiles and more consideration for the rights of victims when rehabilitating offenders.