LONDON — An investigation into claims of child sexual abuse involving British soccer clubs has grown to about 350 alleged cases, a police group said Thursday, as the sport’s overseer opened its own inquiry into possible coverups spanning decades.
The widening investigations have rocked Britain’s most popular sport and its affiliated clubs, including systems of youth camps.
Over the past two weeks, several former professional soccer players have come forward to recount harrowing tales of abuse that they said they suffered as children and had been kept secret for decades.
The publicity brought a “significant number of calls” to authorities, “both reporting further allegations and offering information,” the organization said in a statement.
It said that about 350 alleged victims have made claims and suggested that the number could rise.
Britain’s Football Association launched its own inquiry into the handling of the abuse allegations. The group’s chief executive, Martin Glenn, told reporters that clubs guilty of covering up abuse would face consequences.
“When it’s our turn to apply the rules, we absolutely will, from top to bottom, regardless of the size of the club,” Glenn said.
The scandal began to unravel after Andy Woodward, 43, a retired soccer player, told the Guardian newspaper that he was abused by Barry Bennell, a former elite youth soccer coach who has been jailed on three occasions for sexual offenses against boys.
Woodward said that he was speaking out in hopes of giving other victims the strength to come forward with their stories.
On Tuesday, Bennell, 62, was charged with eight counts of sexual assault, allegedly committed between 1981 and 1985.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a charity, set up a help line on Nov. 23 and said it received more than 860 calls in its first week.
“Looking back, I was completely vulnerable,” former Newcastle United soccer player David Eatock told the BBC on Thursday morning, the latest alleged victim to speak out.
Derek Bell, 53, another former Newcastle soccer player, also spoke publicly for the first time this week about being sexually abused hundreds of times by then-youth coach George Ormond in the late 1970s. He recounted how, more than 20 years later, he went to Ormond’s house with a 12-inch knife wanting to kill him, but Ormond wasn’t in. Bell returned a few days later, this time with a hidden tape recorder to start gathering evidence. In 2002, Ormond was jailed for six years for indecent assault.
The speed and scale of the accusations have brought comparisons to the rapid unfolding of claims against former BBC personality Jimmy Savile, who was accused of abusing hundreds of youths over six decades.
The allegations against Savile did not surface until after his death in 2011.