Former Chelsea owner Ken Bates has been criticised after saying there is "the sniff of money in the air" relating to racism allegations made against the club during his time in charge.
A total of seven former Chelsea youth players have raised legal complaints against the club for what has been described as a "racist bullying and abuse" culture allegedly led by former coaches Graham Rix and Gwyn Williams, both of whom deny the accusations.
The incidents are said to have taken place during the 1980s and 1990s when Bates was Chelsea chairman.
Bates has spoken publicly about the claims against Chelsea for the first time and suggested the alleged victims – who have remained anonymous – could have done more at the time.
Speaking on the Proper Sport Daily podcast, Bates said: "I thought: 'How are we going to make any progress?' These people have to reveal their identities and, without being unkind, what did they do it about at the time?
"If I'd been racially abused I would have told my dad and expected him to support me. Or I could have left the club and joined another one.
"It's all very well to say: 'Oh, well, I didn't want to say anything or do anything because it might have harmed my career,' but if you've got the ability there were plenty of other clubs snapping up young black kids.
"The sniff of money is in the air and I think in view of all the terrible miscarriages of justice over allegations of varied abuse – sexual, racial, et cetera – it's time people should take a tough line.
"What bothers me about it – and obviously I'm keeping an open mind about it – I'm a bit curious where all these ancient 'coming outs' all these years later [have come from].
"Okay, name the people. Name the times. What was actually said? What was your response? This is trial by smear and it's not good enough."
Bates' comments have seen him attract significant criticism and Dino Nocivelli, a solicitor representing some of the complainants, was scathing of the 86-year-old's overview of the situation.
Nocivelli said in a statement released to Omnisport: "Bates' comments are truly shameful and sadly reinforce my clients' views that nobody at Chelsea Football Club was going to listen to them and that they simply had to suffer the abuse or leave the club.
"For far too long, they have felt they would not be believed and that the club would side with Rix and Williams, being two coaches that held extensive power at Chelsea and over their football careers.
"My clients take particular offence to Bates' comments criticising them for failing to disclose their identities and for these 'ancient coming outs'. The only things that my clients wanted to do as children was to play football and to achieve their dream of becoming professional footballers.
"Instead, they suffered an alleged daily nightmare of abuse at Chelsea Football Club in the 1990s. These children are now men and although it may feel 'ancient' to Bates, the pain and suffering that these men feel is real and continues to the current day.
"My clients want the truth to finally be exposed. Justice is long overdue."
Earlier this month, Chelsea vowed to do all they can to investigate the allegations, saying via a spokesperson: "We take allegations of this nature extremely seriously and they will be fully investigated.
"We are absolutely determined to do the right thing to assist the authorities and any investigations they may carry out and to fully support those affected, which would include counselling for any former player that may need it."
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