FA and Premier League must improve players’ education on relationships, say women’s groups

FA and Premier League must improve players’ education on relationships, say women’s groups

by Emily Smith
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An open letter to the FA and Premier League said football has “an ugly underside”The Football Association and Premier League must improve players’ education on consent and healthy relationships, says a coalition of women’s groups.

An open letter called on chief executives Mark Bullingham and Richard Masters “to confront a culture of gender-based violence”.

It added that changes in football “will have a seismic impact” on society.

The letter was signed by The End Violence Against Women Coalition, The Three Hijabis and Level Up.

It comes after recent high-profile police action in England involving professional footballers.

In Scotland, Raith Rovers announced on Friday that David Goodwillie, who was ruled to be a rapist in a 2017 civil case, would not play for the club after they signed him earlier in the week. Goodwillie and a teammate maintained their encounter with the woman was consensual and never faced a criminal trial but the judge in a civil case ruled that both had raped the woman, saying she had been “incapable of giving meaningful consent,” and ordered them to pay her £100,000 in damages.

The letter says “it is clear that our beautiful game has an ugly underside when it comes to violence against women”, adding: “It’s time for the FA and Premier League to confront a culture of gender-based violence.”

Raith Rovers: Val McDermid calls for regulator to check footballersCalls for mandatory training and clear policiesThe organisations call for the FA and Premier League “to show which side they are on when it comes to violence against women and girls”.

The three groups want mandatory training for players, coaches, owners and managers on gender-based violence and “clear sexual misconduct policies” which include the option to suspend players without pay and implement lifetime bans.

The letter asks for a gender-based violence charter in football and prevention programmes for academy players.

It concludes: “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.”

On the same theme, Scottish crime author and Raith Rovers supporter Val McDermid has called for an independent regulator to make checks on professional footballers, after her intervention last week.

The signing prompted an outcry from fans and a series of resignations, with the club then apologising and saying Goodwillie would not play for the club.

The Raith Rovers women’s team severed ties with the main club, are now named McDermid Ladies and are sponsored by the author.

Group wants ‘better response’ from footballAmna Abdullatif, part of The Three Hijabis group and one of the letter writers, told BBC Sport “prevention work is key” to combating gender-based violence.

“It is interesting for me to understand the ways academies work in football,” she explains.

“How do we implement a good quality education around relationships?

“In the first team, those players that are famous, what kind of training, support and knowledge and understanding do they have?

“They’re really young [when they join the first team]. You’re still learning and developing. Those young men are pulled in directions that perhaps with some understanding and education could have been prevented.”

Abdullatif said the groups came together to write the letter because they wanted “a better response” from football’s leaders.

What is currently in place?A Premier League spokesperson said: “The Premier League strongly condemns any form of abuse or violence against women and girls and takes these issues extremely seriously.”

The league says it runs workshops for academy and first-team players from under-14 to under-23 level “addressing healthy and respectful relationships” as well as “seeking consent and understanding sexual harassment”.

The league is also developing a gender equality strategy, while in the EFL academy players aged 16 to 18 undergo mandatory education on consent as part of an online induction.

The FA said it “strongly condemns violence and prejudice of any kind, including misogyny” and encourages victims and witnesses to report incidents to the police and relevant authorities.

“Violence and misogyny are societal issues,” the FA added. “If incidents of this nature take place in a football environment, The FA will take the allegations extremely seriously and will take action within its jurisdiction. Any such case would be investigated once any criminal or statutory investigation is concluded.”

On Tuesday, MPs questioned leaders from the Professional Footballers’ Association on what they are doing to educate players on these issues at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing.

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