Raith Rovers’ U-turn proves one thing – football badly needs a culture change

A culture that enables abuse cannot be allowed to continue – we need to hold football to account

Melissa Reddy
Thursday 03 February 2022 19:01
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<p>David Goodwillie will no longer represent Raith Rovers</p>

David Goodwillie will no longer represent Raith Rovers

There has been a pervading question filling football’s filthy air, amid a river of ghastly alleged episodes, which is a variation of: “How much did the club know?”

In the case of Raith Rovers, there is no suspense or speculation. There was full knowledge that David Goodwillie was ruled to be a rapist in a 2017 civil court case, with a judge finding he had sexually assaulted a woman in a flat in West Lothian.

That did not matter, as opposed to his “footballing ability,” which was the club’s “foremost consideration” in signing the former Scotland international on a two-and-a-half-year deal on deadline day.

The club defended this call until it became too costly, too untenable, and too much of a PR disaster, resulting in a loss of sponsors, anger from politicians and uproar from supporters.

Raith, of course, apologised. “In reaching our original decision, we focused far too much on football matters and not enough on what this decision would mean for our club and the community as a whole,” read a statement, which confirmed Goodwillie would not represent them.

This backtracking is not a consequence of conscience, but of the financial and brand ramifications. Raith were happy, comfortable and initially unwavering in recruiting a man ruled to be a rapist because it “strengthened” them. That move was the latest in an endless list of football proving it has no real consideration for the odious culture it has housed, which protects, elevates and allows predators to grow their wealth, status and victim pool.

A paedophile ring openly operated in the sport; the industrial scale of the child sex abuse scandal speaking to the tendency of clubs, leagues, associations and the game as a whole to plead ignorance to evil when there is great benefit to them.

For too long, victims have been cast as an inconvenience, a backdrop, a matter to “get ahead of” – and ultimately a footnote – as the show goes on.

The assets – scouts, coaches, managers, players – are indulged and sheltered until the point it all goes up in smoke. Even then, the conclusion to abandon ties is premised on preventing reputational and monetary damage, rather than a willingness to eradicate a code of, “do what you want, just don’t get caught”.

There are no passive participants in this hell, with tribalism and banter reducing the most serious, life-ruining incidents to point-scoring exercises or a meme. Certain sections of the media are also culpable for ignoring the victim, enhancing the cult of the talent, or straying away from uncomfortable subjects in fear of legal or personal complications.

A culture that enables abuse cannot be allowed to continue – and while there is much that cannot be said or written due to legal processes, we need to hold football and each other to account. We need to be better. We need to ask crucial questions.

Why was Benjamin Mendy still on the pitch for Manchester City while under police investigation for allegedly raping a woman at his house? The defender, whose trial is on 25 July, now faces nine charges in total, including seven counts of sexual assault involving six alleged victims.

An investigation by the TV programme Exposure, which recently aired on Israel’s Channel 12, alleged former Premier League manager Avram Grant to be a sexual predator, who harassed several young women over decades. Fifa’s ethics committee say they will investigate the matter, but will any of his former employers be minded to conduct an investigation?

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Why did Manchester United insist they “do not condone violence of any kind” in response to the Mason Greenwood situation, yet they hosted Ryan Giggs in the executive box at Old Trafford last September?

The club legend faces charges for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Kate Greville, and of engaging in controlling or coercive behaviour towards her between 2017 and 2020. Giggs, who was afforded the luxury of mutually agreeing to temporarily step down as the manager of Wales, is also charged with assaulting her younger sister. His trial has been postponed due to a court backlog.

How is he only on leave? How is he still, as co-owner of Salford City, in attendance at their matches?

How did Ahmed Mohamed, a coach accused of sexually abusing and harassing female players, become director of football in St Kitts and Nevis? Why isn’t Everton’s stance – suspending a player who has not been named after his arrest because of an ongoing police investigation into child sex offences – the norm?

When will football wake up to the fact that it is creating a safe haven for dangerous, damaging outcomes – and change the narrative?

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