LONDON: Around 350 victims have already reported child sexual abuse within UK football clubs, police chiefs have said, with many more expected to follow suit.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said a “significant number of calls” were made to forces after several former players made allegations of abuse against coaches. Its figures are also based on details from existing investigations as well as referrals from a new helpline set up with the Football Association by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Outlining the police action to date, NPCC lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said the number of victims was “an indicative figure only”, and with information still being collated numbers could change.

He said some of the cases being investigated had come from information supplied by forces across the UK to Operation Hydrant, set up in 2014 to oversee investigations into historical child sex abuse concerning prominent people.

“We are working closely with the Football Association to ensure the response to this significant and growing number of victims, at all levels of football, is co-ordinated effectively,” he added. “We continue to encourage those who have been the victim of child sexual abuse to report it, regardless of how long ago the abuse may have taken place.”

He said all reports would be treated “sensitively and seriously”.

Warwickshire Police announced it is the 16th force to be investigating claims. The Metropolitan, Greater Manchester, North Yorkshire, Scotland and Cheshire forces are among the others to confirm they are looking into allegations of historical child sex abuse in football.

The NSPCC says more than 860 people have called its hotline after allegations first emerged. set up a week ago. Within the first three days of it launching, the charity made more than 60 referrals to a range of agencies across the UK.

That was more than three times as many referrals as in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the charity added. The phone line is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.

The Football Association has announced an internal review and a number of football clubs are conducting their own inquiries – several into claims that the clubs paid off victims to stay silent.

Chelsea Football Club has also confirmed it has begun an investigation into allegations of historical sexual abuse concerning a now-deceased individual it employed in the 1970s.

The 17 police forces investigating allegations include:

Devon & Cornwall, North Wales, North Yorkshire, Dorset, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Cheshire, Northumbria, Metropolitan, Police Scotland, Avon and Somerset, Warwickshire, Essex and Norfolk.