Guts and Glory

“We are aware of the allegations which are currently the subject of a police investigation. We have confirmed that the player denies the allegations and is on police bail pending the outcome of their enquiries. There have been no charges laid and the player can fulfil his professional commitments including permitted travel.”

If there has ever been a statement that has summed up football’s approach to its moral obligations it’s this. Fifty-two words that shine all too bright a spotlight on the amorality that plagues the so-called beautiful game. This is not the statement of a club defending a player subject to investigation for a misdemeanour, this is a club statement in response to a player being arrested, and re-arrested, for two seperate allegations of rape.

“We take our commitments and responsibilities seriously and have followed our safeguarding policies and procedures” the club in question continues, as if to drive a stake through the heart of the very notion that there might be any kind of conscious shamefulness associated with this decision. Why not underline the position with a sick kind of righteousness that only football can produce with such ease?

When The Athletic broke this story yesterday, the comments on Twitter were disabled. It wasn’t hard to anticipate what the response might be and the triumphalist fanfare that accompanied the news was beyond disheartening, as the tribalist culture that often serves the sport so well stole sense once more. 

Some even went as far as to suggest that the article was “disgraceful” due to its intolerable implication of guilt and insinuation that this was in any way comparable to other recent incidents of sexual misconduct involving Premier League footballers.

Maybe we should be taking some time to reflect on the fact that there have been five of these incidents in an incredibly short space of time…

But this comes at a conflicting moment for football. In many ways, things have been changing. The England team’s defiant stand against racism has underpinned a shift of the currents in the movement against discrimation in sport with the players taking a spot back at the forefront of the debate. Jake Daniels recently became the first active openly gay footballer in Britain since Justin Fashanu. And the 2022 Women’s Euros tournament has been breaking attendance records left, right and centre.

Yet I’m sitting here writing an article about football’s dark, cold and bloody heart with five months to go till the 2022 World Cup kicks off in Qatar where it’s alleged that over 6,500 migrant workers have died since the gulf state won the right to host the tournament back in 2010; the nation only begun dismantling it’s Kafala system for migrant workers in 2018, a system that FIFA President Gianni Infantino now acknowledges is a form of modern slavery. And as Paul MacInnes reported in the Guardian just last month, assurances have still not been made that travelling LGBT+ fans will be safe – male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and gay men can be imprisoned for up to five years with the death penalty applying to Muslims.

So, whilst certain players might be taking a stand for the kind of game they want to be a part of, the game itself remains unmoved, ploughing forward through its soulless void asking you to gamble your money away on the favoured ponzi scheme of the day or the latest crypto-fad on your way to hell to watch Camila Cabelo with tear-gassed eyes through the cracks of some Meccano stadium filled with Heineken employees.

At this stage, I’d usually apologise for my cynicism but if “innocent until proven guilty” is our cultural defence of an organisation refusing to suspend an employee being investigated by the police for rape, I’d suggest it’s pretty well placed.

When the Saudi-backed PIF takeover of Newcastle United went through in October of last year, Newcastle’s LGBT+ fans group United With Pride released a statement that read “The committee would like to formally welcome the new owners to Newcastle United Football Club… There is potential to be a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere”.

Hitting that note of sick righteousness with ease, the gay football fans of the North East managed to succinctly summarise the extent of their solidarity with the LGBT community as limited to anything within the borders of St. James Park. Bruno Guimarães is a wonderful footballer but one might question whether he’s wonderful enough that we might forget the gay community of Saudi Arabia still face imprisonment and torture for the mere crime of their existence.

This kind of spineless abdication of responsibility would not be looked upon so kindly outside of the world of football where the motivations for refusing to suspend an employee might be orientated around keeping the inbox clear rather than ensuring a better chance of three points at the weekend. As the chants of “Our alleged rapist is better than your alleged rapist” (to the tune of Guantanamera) ring out around the Twittersphere this week, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to instigate the moment in which football might finally find the nerve to choose guts over glory.

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