With football fans around the world focused on the Women’s World Cup and a number of other international men’s competitions, nearly lost is the fact that two of the most talented and recognizable footballers on the planet are under investigation for rape.
Cristiano Ronaldo is alleged to have assaulted a woman in a Las Vegas hotel room, while more recently Neymar has been accused of assaulting a woman in Paris. In a post #MeToo era where less serious claims have derailed careers in industries ranging from American football to music and media, there has been decidedly less attention paid to these serious allegations in the world’s game.
By Greg McKay
To its credit, Nike has been one of the few major players to display serious concern, coming out promptly following both allegations to state the claims were disturbing. Meanwhile, Ronaldo’s current club Juventus responded disappointingly to the allegations by commending his “professionalism and dedication” and PSG have stayed mostly mum on the allegations made against Neymar.
The football media, on the other hand, has been largely quiet on the significance of the allegations, tending to focus more on Ronaldo’s stellar performances for Portugal in recent weeks and Neymar’s injury struggles. Regular talk shows like ESPN FC have provided precious little coverage of the matters, while a recent article on goal.com treated the rape allegations as very much an afterthought in describing a difficult year for Neymar filled with fan run-ins.
Though reasonable minds can differ on the correct approach to initial allegations of sexual misconduct, when the severity rises to the level of those against Ronaldo and Neymar, the failure of some of the world’s highest profile clubs, sponsors and media outlets to muster the courage to display a minimal level of concern for the stars’ alleged actions or condemnation of sexual violence more generally is troubling.
It points to the fact that as much fans enjoy pointing to the virtues of football, there is a dark side to the game that too often still engenders sectarianism, racism and sexism.
WOMEN’S WORLD CUP
In stark juxtaposition, just as the Women’s World Cup is getting underway and elite female athletes are fighting for more gender quality, two of the top male footballers in the world are accused of violent crimes against women. If football were to ever have its own #MeToo movement, one would hope now would be the time.
Working against progress in a game that has its roots in conservative, working class communities around the world is the fact that players of the ilk of Ronaldo and Neymar are literal behemoths of the global game.
Accepting that the allegations could be true wouldn’t just be a one off indictment of minor figures like the NFL has experienced but a seismic event that could shape the sport for years to come.
Moreover, the global nature of the game allows negative stories, to be siloed to a certain extent. Ronaldo and Neymar are not the major media figures in the United States that they are in the rest of the world and the spotlight on sexual assault that the #MeToo movement has shown is not as bright in the rest of the world where media scrutiny on the stars is greater.
The answer at this point may not be for clubs or national federations to take action against Neymar and Ronaldo. Rape cases are notoriously difficult to investigate and until the full details come out, prematurely casting judgments does nobody any favors.
Rather, other athletes, the global football leadership and media should do a better job of conveying the gravity of the allegations, the need for a full and fair investigation and, most importantly, the fact that regardless of the truth of the specific allegations against Ronaldo and Neymar, sexual violence is something that will not be tolerated in the football community.