Sex, Lies, and Leadership

LONDON – News events can often serve as important catalysts for introspection, not least for members of company boards. Recent revelations of the Russian government’s involvement in hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s computer system – just two years after North Korea’s hack of Sony Pictures – has spurred a push in boardrooms around the world to tighten their organizations’ cyber security.

Likewise, stories of illegal or unethical labor practices – for example, among Apple suppliers in China – have inspired companies to take a close look at their supply chains. And criticism of excessive executive remuneration has led to frantic meetings by many boards’ compensation committees. But there is one issue in the news that has not yet received sufficient attention in boardrooms: child sexual abuse.

In the United Kingdom, the last month has brought harrowing reports about child abuse in youth soccer teams, where promising young athletes attempt to play their way to the professional level. At last count, 98 amateur and professional clubs in the UK were implicated in some way.

While the public has been shocked by the revelations, the affected clubs’ leaders may not have been – at least not in every case. After all, many clubs had previously heard allegations of sexual abuse of young players, but had chosen to ignore them or cover them up, at times even doling out hush money to the victims – all for the sake of protecting their own reputations.