Gary Lineker has thrown his support behind a campaign to prevent the abuse of children around the world.
The charity It’s a Penalty, which uses major sporting events to raise awareness and provide a mechanism to report concerns, will spread its message at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens next month.
It has already had a significant presence at the Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl this year.
For former England striker Lineker, who has been involved with the organisation since before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, its work has become all the more poignant after the revelation that his one-time team-mate Paul Stewart was abused as a young player.
Lineker said: “It’s been pretty harrowing to read some of the stories about how the young footballers were exploited.
“One of them – Paul Stewart – who came out and told his story was a team-mate of mine, both with Tottenham and England for a spell, and I had no idea that he’d gone through that, such an awful experience.
“I think it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes. This kind of thing is out there, children are groomed et cetera and it’s harrowing. It’s harrowing for them and just the thought of it is deeply disturbing.”
Responding to research suggesting major sporting events which attract thousands of visitors also increase the risk of abuse, exploitation and trafficking, It’s a Penalty seeks to highlight criminal activity and protect the vulnerable by working with local police.
The charity says it has helped more than 16,000 victims already.
Chief executive Sarah de Carvalho said: “Research shows that where there is an influx of hundreds and thousands of people, unfortunately the traffickers and exploiters take advantage of that to make money.
“The problem is worldwide, it’s not just one region or one country because of the internet, but also because people travel and have easy access, so our message is if you see something, say something.”
The charity has produced a short film which is being shown on every flight by five airlines – Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, British Airways, Virgin Australia, and American Airlines – worldwide for three months with a potential audience in excess of 27 million, and at the sporting venues involved.
Lineker said: “I think it’s really important to get that message out there, the more people that are educated and realise they might be in trouble, or the children might be in trouble, then the better it will be.”