Football needs to present United front to help tackle domestic abuse

Giggs’ invite to the directors’ box at Ronaldo’s homecoming sent the wrong message, writes Laura Lawrence.

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Ian King wrote very eloquently for Football365 this week on why Ryan Giggs’ inclusion in Cristiano Ronaldo’s return celebration was misjudged by Manchester United. It covered the complex theme of innocent until proven guilty perfectly as well. A recommended read.

Giggs has been charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend and engaging in “controlling or coercive behaviour”. He has also been charged with common assault on a second woman who is believed to be his ex-girlfriend’s sister. Giggs has pleaded not guilty to the three charges and his trial at Manchester Crown Court has been set for January 24th next year, with a pre-trial hearing to be held on October 8th.

I want to go further than calling his inclusion a misjudgement, I want to look at why these optics matter in practical terms.

In 2014, the charity Women’s Aid launched a new campaign, Football United Against Domestic Violence. The charity presented to the heads of footballing bodies and to key diversity and inclusion decision-makers in the industry.

The campaign was to get organisations to sign up to a pledge to “call out sexist behaviour that can underpin violence towards women and girls.” The aim was for footballing bodies, media, police, players, fans and football clubs to send out a clear message that domestic violence is unacceptable. Manchester United failed to uphold this at the weekend.

Teresa Parker of Women’s Aid told The Offside Rule Podcast: “It takes immense courage for a woman to speak out about domestic abuse and it is crucial that allegations of domestic abuse are not ignored, minimised or belittled.

“In 2014, we launched our Football United Against Domestic Violence campaign and have worked with football clubs, the FA, the Premier League and BT Sport to deliver the powerful message that domestic abuse is always unacceptable and that there is no place for violence in football whether on or off the pitch.

“Manchester United sent a very different message this weekend and we hope that the conversation around this will mean they will think carefully about their future actions in relation to domestic abuse allegations.”

Domestic abuse charities are keen to point out that football isn’t the cause of domestic violence, but that results can exacerbate the actions of a perpetrator.

Throughout the course of the Euro 2020 tournament, for example, over 400 protective court orders were applied for – a rise of five per cent in just a few weeks – according to the National Centre for Domestic Violence. Ninety per cent of these were for women.

In 2013, Lancaster University conducted research into the correlation between rises in domestic violence and England matches. Abuse rose by 26 per cent when England won or drew and 38 per cent when the national team lost.

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Football clubs cannot be held responsible for the actions of these deplorable perpetrators and nor would we want them to be. However, the optics of having Giggs sitting in the VIP box at the homecoming of Ronaldo, both of whom have ongoing cases against them concerning allegations of abuse and violence against women, is not just misjudged – instead it could be seen as tacit support of alleged abusers to the detriment of the alleged victims.

When victims see high-profile figures being celebrated and given the star treatment when proceedings are still ongoing it adds to the reluctance of others to come forward, and it starts from an early age.

A government review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges, released in June this year, revealed that over 90 per cent of young women and girls had been harassed either physically or online at school or college. The report said it was concerning that for some children and young people “incidents are so commonplace that they see no point in reporting them.”

While some might not see the twang of a bra strap or the lifting of a PE skirt as anything more than childish banter, what it’s actually doing is setting a woman up for a lifetime of society sanctioned inappropriate touching. It’s also a barrier to women continuing to actively take part in sport beyond puberty. From little harassment acorns, sexual abuse grows.

Clubs like Manchester United need to do better if football is to help tackle these issues.

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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