Content warning: sexual violence
End the culture of gender-based violence in football.
Football is the most popular and influential sport in the UK but there’s a culture of impunity around players who commit gender-based violence. As more women speak out about the abuse they’ve experienced at the hands of footballers, we’re challenging the Premier League to take action by kicking rapists off the pitch.
In September 2021, world famous footballer Cristiano Ronaldo was due to return to the pitch with Manchester United. Kathryn Mayorga says she was raped by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, and we believe her. There are legal documents where he admitted his actions, and a civil case is still open. Despite this, the club had created a wall of silence, and gave him a hero’s welcome on his return.
This was symbolic of Premier League football’s treatment of sexual violence: silence survivors, protect players. We knew we had to send a message that, no matter how good an athlete you are, you must face accountability if you harm women.
In September, we created a solidarity pledge for football fans to show their support for Kathryn Mayorga, and overnight over 4,000 people signed it and sent messages to her.
Then we flew a #BelieveKathrynMayorga banner over Ronaldo’s return match and made world news. The story received global news coverage – especially in sports news – including The Mirror, The Sunday Times, ESPN and the BBC.
In January 2022, another player was arrested for gender-based violence. It’s clear that this is a systemic problem within football. So we teamed up with The Three Hijabis and End Violence Against Women and Girls Coalition (EVAW) to send an open letter to the Premier League and The FA asking: Whose side are you on?
Our four demands to The FA and Premier League were to:
– Introduce mandatory training for all players, managers, coaches and owners on gender-based violence.
– Introduce a Tackling Gender-Based Violence Charter for clubs to sign up to that sets out minimum standards for policies and action to tackle unacceptable behaviour.
– To adopt clear sexual misconduct policies and protocols with the power to impose appropriate consequences and disciplinary action on players, from suspension without pay to lifetime bans.
– For Academies to introduce prevention programmes for young people that take a “Whole Club Approach” to eliminating gender-based violence in football.
In February, Level Up, The Three Hijabis and EVAW had our first meeting with the Premier League to talk through the demands of our open letter, and the actions that needed to follow.
As a result of our previous meeting, in June, the Premier League invited us and 20 other women’s rights and gender justice groups to a “Listening Day”, where we shared our expertise and knowledge with members of the Premier League on how to most effectively tackle gender-based violence in football.
In August, news broke that the Premier League would be implementing mandatory consent training for all players and staff, which was the first ask in our open letter – WIN!
And when another story came out about another footballer being charged with violence against women, Arsenal fans helped us to fly a banner over the season’s opening game that read “kick rapists off the pitch”.