CW: This article directly references abuse. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
Having earned a spot in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Spain women’s national soccer team should be booking plane tickets to Australia and preparing for its upcoming friendlies. However, in a move that could certainly jeopardize La Roja’s title chances, 15 of Spain’s top national team players sent emails to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) on Sept. 22, expressing their intention to go on strike until working conditions improve.
In their emails, the players blasted the toxic environment Head Coach Jorge Vilda has fostered for not only leading to disappointing match results but also detrimentally affecting their “emotional state” and “health.”
The unified effort came just weeks after a number of senior players met with RFEF president Luis Rubiales to air their concerns over Vilda’s coaching style.
In response, the RFEF issued a statement threatening to suspend the women for up to five years, calling into question the players’ “dignity” by stating they must “accept their mistakes and seek forgiveness” before returning to the national team.
This is not the first time the Spanish players have had to take matters into their own hands. After a poor showing at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the entire Spanish roster led a charge to oust then-Head Coach Ignacio Quereda. The athletes alleged that Quereda fomented a culture of fear, bigotry and intimidation during his 27-year tenure as head coach.
Even though Quereda’s contract was rightfully terminated, at least one whistleblower faced direct retaliation. Then-captain Veronica Boquete, who helped lead the movement against Quereda, was omitted from the national roster following his dismissal and never reinstated.
Despite the need for a proper investigation into the allegations levied against Vilda, the United States has remained silent about the situation ahead of their matchup against La Roja on Oct. 11. And in this situation, silence can easily be interpreted as indifference toward the rights of Spanish soccer players.
While U.S. Soccer has ignored the Spanish players, several American players, such as forward Alex Morgan, have spoken out on their personal social media denouncing the RFEF’s response.
“The federation is throwing their players under the bus for players asking for better protection, treatment, and professionalism,” Morgan wrote in a tweet.
While individual players have expressed support, U.S. Soccer continues to hold its cards close to its chest. The federation maintains that it is “monitoring the situation” but remains opaque regarding plans for navigating the Spanish shakeup.
Even worse is the fact that U.S. Soccer’s silence on this issue was completely expected, given its own history of a toxic and harmful culture.
On Oct. 3, an investigation by former Attorney General Sally Yates and the King & Spalding law firm concluded with a report of the systemic abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims,” the executive summary of the report reads. “Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.”
As the federation brands itself as the paragon of gender equality with the historic Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that guaranteed equal pay, working conditions and prize money for the U.S. men’s and women’s teams, don’t be fooled into thinking the moral compass of U.S Soccer spearheaded the deal.
The USWNT had to win four World Cups, file multiple gender discrimination lawsuits, earn more money than the men’s team for the federation and endure years of misogynistic harrassment before U.S. Soccer was even willing to come to the negotiating table.
If U.S. Soccer cared about athletes’ rights and safety and championing gender equality abroad, it would postpone the match against Spain at least until the RFEF resolves its internal dispute. It would stand in solidarity with the Spanish players, who are risking their entire careers to demand a safe working environment.
This season was supposed to be one of reckoning. It seemed like women’s soccer was finally taking a step forward as the NWSL sacked personnel who enabled and reinforced abusive cultures. However, their silence in this crucial moment speaks as loud as those actions.
At the very least, U.S. Soccer should release a statement acknowledging the women’s concerns, which would help to normalize whistleblowing in abusive environments and signal it has learned something from past failures.
American neutrality does nothing but patronize the Spaniards for speaking out, but what do we expect from a federation that constantly refuses to protect its own players from abuse?
On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-6985); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. (202-742-1727). To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator (202-687-9183) or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.
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