Joanne O’Riordan: Sport’s attitude to domestic violence is beyond depressing

Major reform is required or victims will continue to be the ones that suffer

A banner reading ‘#Believe Kathryn Mayorga’ flies over Old Trafford during the Premier League game between Manchester United and Newcastle United. Photograph:  Martin Rickett/PA Wire

A banner reading ‘#Believe Kathryn Mayorga’ flies over Old Trafford during the Premier League game between Manchester United and Newcastle United. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

 

You would be forgiven for getting caught up in the CR7 returns home to Manchester hype. Manchester United’s social media accounts definitely won’t let you forget, posting almost hourly pictures, videos, interviews, whatever they can. The mass hysteria and hero worship that took place on Saturday afternoon was incredibly weird, especially given a plane was circling the stadium with a banner that read ‘BELIEVE KATHRYN MAYORGA’.

The plane went largely ignored, which pretty much sums up how sport views violence against women perpetrated by its star athletes. This hero worship, this mass hysteria all ensured that one of the biggest allegations about one of our greatest athletes/celebrities stayed mostly behind the curtain. There, but not enough to force you to confront the issues.

It must be said that these are only allegations from Kathryn Mayorga, Der Spiegel newspaper and other outlets. Accusations of rape and sexual assault have followed Cristiano Ronaldo since the story broke in 2017, despite the alleged assault occurring in 2009.

Whether we like it or not, sport, particularly men’s sport, has an ugly side that won’t disappear

But if you wanted to add insult to injury, you didn’t have to look further than the Manchester United VIP directors’ box, with Ryan Giggs perched proudly gazing upon his former team-mate, hero, legend, one who has been accused of rape.

In May, Giggs appeared at Manchester magistrates court to face charges of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Kate Greville, and engaging in controlling or coercive behaviour towards her between December 1st, 2017, and November 2nd, 2020. He is also charged with assaulting another woman.

Ryan Giggs will not be involved in Wales’ upcoming international camp for the friendly against the United States and the Nations League matches against the Republic of Ireland and Finland. File photograph: PA
Ryan Giggs appeared at Manchester magistrates court to face charges of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and engaging in controlling or coercive behaviour. File photograph: PA

To highlight just how bad the problem in the Premier League is, Man City defender Benjamin Mendy is currently awaiting a trial in his case, where he faces multiple charges of rape and sexual assault.

City, knowing this, continued to play him before he was taken into custody. Now, we’re all forced to pretend Mendy doesn’t exist while his alleged victims continue to suffer in silence, bound by a legal system were only 1.4 per cent end in a charge or summons. Many organisations believe 90 per cent of accusations are true, but never make it to the police.

Here’s something many people won’t address. Whether we like it or not, sport, particularly men’s sport, has an ugly side that won’t disappear. Sport has a domestic violence and sexual assault problem.

Domestic violence is the ugliest type of violence out there. It’s personal, degrading and relies on forms of manipulation and brainwashing you can’t wrap your head around. Let’s not even look at the athletes for a second. Let’s look at what the domestic abuse charities are saying.

After the Euros final over the summer, the National Centre for Domestic Violence in Britain published research that said domestic abuse rose by 38 per cent nationally after England lost to Italy.

Before the Euros, research found the number of domestic abuse cases reported to the Lancashire police force in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups rose by 38 per cent when England lost. Incidents increased by 26 per cent when the team either drew or won a match. Admittedly, football and alcohol don’t start the abuse but is usually a trigger in life-threatening situations.

English soccer isn’t the only sport blighted with allegations. This year’s Super Bowl between Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs featured two of the NFL’s most profiled abusers, Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown. Hill pleaded guilty to domestic assault against his pregnant girlfriend in 2014. Brown has accusations that stretch from Pittsburgh to Tampa Bay to Las Vegas. Superstar Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson has 22 civil suits against him.

Juventus are reportedly confident of signing Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid. Photograph: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters
Accusations of rape and sexual assault have followed Cristiano Ronaldo since 2017, despite the alleged assault occurring in 2009. Photograph: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters
Depressingly, many victims do not believe in a judicial system that has very publicly gone brutally towards the defenders’ way

Sport is apathetic and amoral. At the end of the day, it’s a business, a multi-billion-dollar behemoth of a business. For the squeaky-clean image and to continue to use sport as a distraction, it’s much easier to sweep the violence against women under the rug. If we all pretend it’s not there, it won’t exist. And if wealthy celebrity lawyers can continue to outmuscle victims with limited resources and support, even better.

Shaming these clubs and sports won’t work either. The NFL has set the precedent time and time again and has unintentionally rewarded the behaviour too. Now, the Premier League is facing the same problem.

Depressingly, this article can be replicated across many leagues and many organisations. Depressingly, many victims do not believe in a judicial system that has very publicly gone brutally towards the defenders’ way. Until sports and sporting organisations realise that they do not operate in a legal world away from the real legal world and until the real legal world faces major reform, victims will continue to suffer. Sadly, this will come at a high cost if reform doesn’t come soon.