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  • Gem Kirwan

Rape culture and football: the ugly truth behind the “Beautiful Game”

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

It’s difficult to overstate the cultural impact of football on society: it dominates the TV guides, it divides friends and family members, and, on special occasions, it compels people to stick flares in places that flares definitely shouldn’t be stuck. However, sadly, the sport isn’t just about the love of the game come win, lose, or draw anymore. Recent events have highlighted that the “Beautiful Game”, a nickname popularised by Pelé, has been plagued by misogyny and rape culture for far too long.

Last week, Scottish Championship team Raith Rovers attracted national attention for signing player David Goodwillie, praising him for being Scotland’s “top goalscorer”. It is safe to say, however, that this attention proved undesirable as it emerged goal scoring wasn’t the only thing on his record. In 2017, Goodwillie was found to have raped a woman in a civil court case and ordered to pay £100,000 in damages to his victim. Understandably, the club faced huge public outcry, including from author Val McDermid, a lifelong fan who publicly withdrew her shirt sponsorship of the team. Following suite, Raith Rovers’ entire women’s team left the club and have rebranded themselves the “McDermid Ladies”. Startlingly, it still took three days for the club to realise that prioritising scoring over the fight against gender-based violence was a bad idea and to withdraw their offer.

And Raith Rovers’ scandal isn’t the only football fiasco to hit the headlines recently. The same week that Manchester City player Benjamin Mendy faced his ninth accusation of rape, attempted rape and sexual assault, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of rape after incriminating social media posts reached the police. Though both men have been released on bail, it is clear that these cases have drawn attention to the problems surrounding misogyny and rape culture in football. Some have even suggested it is high time for a public reckoning dubbed “Football’s #MeToo”. Following Greenwood’s arrest, Manchester United released a statement asserting that the club strongly condemns violence and offered fans the opportunity to exchange replica Greenwood shirts for that of another player, free of charge. However, for some, this is too little, too late.

It’s not just the players facing these kinds of accusations, either: domestic violence increases 26% on days when the England football team is playing and 38% if they lose. Though individuals are ultimately responsible for their own actions, the football industry must be held accountable for creating a culture in which misogyny and violence have been made to feel at home. Clubs urgently need to take direct responsibility in tackling the dangerous behaviour of their players so that football can return to being the “Beautiful Game” it once was. It’s just a shame that misogyny can’t be discarded as easily as a football shirt.


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