Youth soccer sex abuse scandal causes uproar in Argentina
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina’s Football Association said Wednesday that it will closely monitor boarding houses where youth players live following a sex abuse scandal involving minors at two of the country’s most popular and powerful clubs.
River Plate said earlier this week that it will collaborate with authorities after a local NGO reported minors were allegedly abused in the club’s youth divisions from 2004-11. The abuse accusations come just days after police arrested a referee for his suspected involvement in a child prostitution ring with players from the Independiente youth club.
“We want this to be investigated,” said Dante Majori, the president of Argentine Football Association’s youth and children’s committee.
“We want to contribute with the law so that those responsible for these abhorrent acts are caught.”
Majori said the abuse allegations took place before he came into the job last year, and had not been reported until now. But he said that the soccer federation, known by its AFA acronym, will launch inspections nationwide.
“We’ve set out to revise and carry out a protocol to regulate these boarding houses” he told local Todo Noticias TV channel.
Independiente recently filed a complaint with prosecutors after at least two of the club’s youth division players were allegedly the victims of a prostitution ring. The allegations first surfaced after one of the players broke down during a session with a psychologist. He said that he had been abused, that he had sex with men in exchange for money, and that players were recruited to the prostitution ring by another club member.
The prosecutor investigating the case said Wednesday that the 19-year-old who recruited them was abused himself, and is now cooperating with authorities. At least seven minors were prostituted and 10 more minors are believed to have been potential victims.
So far, five men suspected to be part of the prostitution ring have been arrested. Investigators are also analyzing dozens of calls made to young players for possible grooming.
“Many kids were contacted but they didn’t fall. We’re investigating this. Thank God these acts were not carried out,” prosecutor Maria Soledad Garibaldi said at a news conference. “We’re all united here - the kids, the parents, and the law.”
In soccer-crazed Argentina, thousands of talented kids train in soccer academies and club youth divisions that have been talent factories where Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, and other stars once polished their skills as children.
Many children in club boarding houses come from low-income families in remote communities, and live far from their parents under the care of clubs, dreaming of a chance to make it big in the hyper competitive world of professional soccer.
Investigators say that some of the young victims were offered trips to their home provinces and soccer boots in exchange for sex.
“They took advantage of their maximum vulnerability,” Buenos Aires province attorney general Julio Marcelo Conte Grand, told reporters. “They took advantage of their utmost desire to reach professional success.”
AFA said Wednesday that it has reached out to the kids, their families and professionals.
“We’re going to work both inside and outside of the boarding houses with containment and social work for all of children and youth soccer,” Majori said.
The abuse scandal goes beyond soccer.
Argentina’s Olympic Committee filed a legal complaint Tuesday against a gymnastics coach who is accused of abusing a still undetermined number of athletes. The case is being investigated by a local prosecutor. As part of the probe, authorities raided the headquarters of the Argentine gymnastics confederation on Wednesday.
“We have become aware through someone who manages our relationship with the athletes that certain athletes were abused by a coach in the 1990′s,” said Gerardo Werthein, the president of Argentina’s Olympic Committee. He did not disclose the identity.
“It’s incredible that so much time has happened and that no one has acted,” he said.
Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava and Debora Rey contributed to this report.