Tyne & Wear

FA probe into web abuse by young Northumberland footballers

Football officials have called in online protection experts after players as young as 12 in Northumberland used social media sites to bully opponents.

The Football Association move follows incidents, including one under-13s match in which online threats spilled over to on-field violence.

The FA has asked the government's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) for help.

The Northumberland branch of the FA said the issue was a "major problem".

Stewart Leason, Northumberland FA development manager, said: "We are getting more and more examples where it is happening. It is happening in society generally, and some youngsters are bringing it into football."

Massive change

He added: "The abuse of social media is a major problem for us. It probably causes my welfare officer more problems than pitch-side behaviour or on-field behaviour.

"I think in many cases, parents have no idea what their youngsters are doing online and would be horrified if they saw some of the content of the conversations.

"There is a massive rate of change in technology and sport has to take on board those changes and deal with them as they arise.

"No doubt, in two years time, we will have something else, and it's a question of working with the professionals to try to find solutions to the problems rather than have the problems dictate our game."

The CEOP team is focussing its inquiries on the under-13s game, which had to be abandoned, and a youth team cup-tie forfeited by a club when it was claimed officials feared for their players' safety.

Both matches involved teams from the FA's Northumberland region.

A spokeswoman for CEOP, which was originally established to tackle the sexual abuse of children, confirmed its volunteers were working with the FA.

She said: "We have over 70,000 volunteers around the UK, who are trained to deliver and use our Thinkuknow materials, helping children and young people to understand the risks they may face online, as well as enhancing their awareness of how to behave appropriately when using technology and the internet.

"Many of our volunteers work directly with children and young people, whether at school, youth or sports clubs and it's great to know that our resources and materials are having an immediate impact."

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