A coalition of women’s rights groups have called for urgent action to tackle violence against women and girls in football. In an open letter to the Football Association (FA) and Premier League (available here), the campaigns – spearheaded by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, The Three Hijabis and Level Up – argued that ‘this issue is not solely about individual players, but the industry that supports them; the clubs they play for, the leagues they compete in, and the academies that train them’.
The calls for action arrive in the wake of widespread condemnation of Raith Rovers FC due to their now-reversed decision to re-sign the striker David Goodwillie, who had been found guilty in a civil court case in 2017 for raping a woman. ‘With arrests and charging of high profile football players for domestic and sexual abuse, as well as protests from fans at the signing of a known rapist, it’s time for the FA and Premier League to confront a culture of gender-based violence’, said the letter. ‘Football players and the teams they play for have a unique position in shaping the attitudes of boys and men. Their behaviour both on and off the pitch is influential, and transforming the culture in football will have a seismic impact on wider society.’
To address this ‘ugly underside’, the coalition proposed that football authorities commit to a ‘Gender-Based Violence Charter’ that ‘addresses prevention, intervention and accountability’ and sets out ‘minimum standards for policies and action to tackle unacceptable behaviour’. They also called for the adoption of ‘clear sexual misconduct policies and protocols’ that give clubs ‘the power to impose appropriate consequences and disciplinary action on players, from suspension without pay to lifetime bans’.
Level Up – one of the signatories to the letter – have also launched a petition calling for sports authorities to ‘implement a zero-tolerance policy on any gender-based violence’, corresponding with the system in the United States, where organisations such as the NFL and Major League Baseball have policies for players found guilty of domestic abuse, sexual violence or child abuse. ‘There’s nothing stopping the football authorities in the UK from taking the same approach,’ said the co-director of Level Up Seyi Falodun-Liburd. ‘This is a problem that goes beyond any one club and the Premier League and Football Association has the power to lead by example and hold all players accountable.’
Following the publication of the open letter, a spokesperson for the FA said that the sporting body ‘strongly condemns violence and prejudice of any kind, including misogyny, and encourages anyone who has been the subject of, or witness to, this type of behaviour to report it to the Police and the relevant authorities so that it can be investigated’.