When the soccer pitch is your workplace

Two weeks ago I wrote a post summarizing the debacle that followed Spain’s World Cup football championship win. A week later Luis Rubiales, the Spanish football federation president, finally resigned and six days ago he was in court being served with a restraining order keeping him away from Jenni Hermoso, the footballer he forcibly kissed on the gold medal podium.

ID: A group of young soccer players representing different teams, genders, ethnicities, and body types chase a blue, white, and green soccer ball. Photo by Lars Bo Nielsen on Unsplash

Members of the Spanish team are continuing their strike and are refusing to play until further changes are made to address systemic sexism in the Spanish federation even with the departures of Rubiales and Jorge Vilda, the coach of the World Cup winning team.

You have to admire the team’s resolve. Fresh off their global win, which caps a stellar season across all age groups in women’s soccer, the team is leveraging the power they have to make sure real change is coming. The resignation of Rubiales following the firing of Vilda amidst mounting global pressure is not just window dressing. The team has the backing of the Spanish government’s labour minister, which is also significant.

Treating the harassment of Hermoso, from the kiss to the intimidation tactics, as a workplace issue shows the seriousness of the situation. The locker room, the soccer pitch, the training ground, and even the winner’s podium are their offices and meeting rooms. The women work hard on the field representing their sport and their country.

In the first global survey of workplace harassment, the results showed only half of victims reported their experiences, and often this only took place after repeated experiences of harassment. The study also reported “Young women were twice as likely as young men to have faced sexual violence and harassment.”

The International Labour Organization has developed a set of international standards that offer “a common framework to prevent, remedy and eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment. The Convention includes the specific recognition, for the first time in international law, of the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, and sets out the obligation to respect, promote and realize this.”

As more workplaces in Canada and around the world recognize the impact of psychological violence, sexual harassment, and discrimination, we should also ensure it is not just conventional workplaces that make the changes necessary. The work Hermoso and the Spanish women’s soccer team are engaged in will have an impact in Spain and around the world. We should all take notice listen up and start asking questions at our local and regional levels to ensure everyone, especially those at risk including girls, young women, and nonbinary persons can all engage safely in their chosen sports without harassment and violence.

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