Professor who predicted footballer abuse allegations now ‘too ill to help’ after scooping Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year award

Celia Brackenridge

Celia Brackenridge

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A “visionary” who dedicated her career to child protection has received a lifetime achievement award at The Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards.

Professor Celia Brackenridge, who lives in Wigginton with her partner Diana, was instrumental in establishing the Women’s Sports Foundation.

But the 66-year-old, who is currently battling leukaemia, is best known for her study into child protection policies for The FA – before it was aborted in 2004.

She said she was “not at all surprised” to hear about the abuse allegations which have rocked the football world.

It is said that if her project had been completed, victims of alleged abuse could have spoken out sooner.

Speaking to the Gazette about her award, Professor Brackenridge said: “This has to be one of my proudest professional achievements – perhaps even beyond my OBE.

“In the early years of my work in this field I was dismissed as a troublemaker for suggesting there might be sexism or abuse in sport.

“Sadly, recent events have shown that I was right. It is a huge honour of course but I am sad that I am now too ill to do much to help progress or resolve things.”

Professor Brackenridge, who received her OBE from the Queen in 2012, advised FIFA on the movement of young players between sub-Saharan Africa and European football clubs, and the concern over their exploitation.

She was also a consultant to the medical commission of the International Olympic Committee when it examined sexual harassment and abuse in sport.

And despite not being able to complete her inquiry into English football, Professor Brackenridge did produce a number of publications which allude to abuse in sport.

“Everything that we are hearing was predicted in my book ‘Spoilsports: Understanding and Preventing Sexual Exploitation in Sport’.

“I can’t say whether survivors of abuse would have spoken out earlier had we been allowed to complete the work but I would like to think so.

“Everyone needs to stay vigilant and become informed on the issue.”

Dr Anita White, former chairman of the Women’s Sport Foundation, said: “She led the way where others have feared to go. She was a visionary. She is someone who has made a huge impact on the way sport has to do with young people, both boys and girls.”