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Paedophile panic sweeps soccer clubs in Kerala

January 30, 2008 · 

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Wayanad (Kerala), March 30: Several football clubs for children in Kerala are in a panic after discovering on Sunday that their Belgian coach of over four years is a paedophile who had served five years in jail for sexually abusing children back home. Jozef Achtergael, 57, was released in 2000 after doing five years of his seven-year jail term (he was released two years early for good behaviour and to undergo six months of psychiatric treatment) and landed up in Kerala the following year, became a coach for several kids’ clubs in 2004 and even began taking groups of children to Sweden and Finland “for exposure to a better game”. Fortunately, so far, there has not been any adverse report relating to his Kerala stint.

When confronted by this newspaper’s reporters at a football ground at Wayanad, Jozef first flatly denied that he was a paedophile, but later broke down, pleading: “Please do not write about me and get me out of here. I love being with children just as you love being with women, don’t you understand? But I have not done anything wrong in India.” Investigations by this newspaper have revealed that Jozef had served five years in jail in Belgium for sexually abusing five children and was released in 2000.

The tipoff actually came from a victim, who also supplied evidence, which came in handy to compel Jozef to confess after initially protesting that the reporters had “got the wrong guy”. Once convinced there was no escape from the truth, he buried his head in his hands and broke down, pleading: “I have paid dearly for my sins. My life is finished if my story is published in the newspapers. Please, please don’t ruin my life. I love India and its people. I want to continue my association here for very long. I will not harm anyone, so trust me and let me continue my good work here.”

Unaware of his antecedents, a football academy with 24 branches across Kerala to train boys in the age group of eight to 12 had engaged the Belgian as a technical director (coach). Interestingly, Jozef gave his services free and has visited Kerala 15 times in the last four years. It did not matter that he was not a regular trainer and did not possess any official coaching badge, while masquerading as an expert in the game and a specialist with child players. He is also involved with a charity NGO working with school dropout kids at the fishermen’s colony of Bheemunipatnam on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam, sources said.

“More than a hundred children of vulnerable age have been at his mercy in the various clubs in Kerala. However, we have had no complaints so far and he has been well-behaved here. Your revelation is quite shocking and we don’t know what to do. We will have to discuss the issue and decide our next course of action,” said an academy official, who did not want to be identified. He said Jozef would visit Kerala every six months or so, spending two to three weeks with the young footballers.

The Belgian has purportedly been teaching the finer points of football to the boys of Kozhikode, Malappuram and Wayanad districts, his ugly past buried in distant Europe, where he had made headlines 14 years ago. A child psychologist by profession, Jozef was a much-respected man before his shocking activities came to light. The psychologist doubled up as a football coach to lure youngsters. When he was in charge of a Belgian youth club called Red Star, he was found to have abused a number of young boys in the guise of training them in football.

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Tulir – Centre for the Prevention & Healing of Child Sexual Abuse
tulircphcsa@yahoo.co.in, www.tulir.org
www.childsexualabuseinindia.blogspot.com
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