Patrice Evra has criticised a culture of “toxic masculinity” in men’s football as he called on sporting institutions to confront the endemic violence experienced by athletes at all levels.
The former Manchester United and France captain is a survivor of sexual abuse and was speaking at a gathering of European politicians and sporting bodies on the problem of violence – sexual, physical and psychological – in sport.
“When you get abused, for whatever reason, you don’t talk,” Evra told a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace) in London. “It’s not easy to talk because you feel guilty, you feel shame about yourself and also you don’t know if people will believe you.
“That’s why it’s difficult to talk. Especially in football where there is such toxic masculinity. If a player came and said: ‘This happened to me,’ you don’t want to play with that player. Even crying in football is not allowed. If I had spoken out when I was a player I don’t think I would have been treated with the same respect.
“I was sexually abused at the age of 13 by my headteacher. Something I survived, but at what price? It cost me a lot. It was only when I was 38 that I was able to tell my story, to my wife. One in two children will experience some kind of violence in their childhood. It might happen in a football team, in school or out of school. But we never talk. And communication is the key. We need to break the taboo [around] talking about child sexual abuse.”
Experts spoke of the need to join the dots between all forms of violence perpetrated against children and young athletes, with estimates of millions of victims of abuse across the world. There is no global framework for reporting and monitoring abuse, and sporting bodies stated the need for effective interaction between local governing bodies, political institutions and judiciaries.
Joyce Cook, who was responsible for creating a safeguarding and child protection department within Fifa and has called abuse “one of the most compelling threats to the integrity of sport”, is working from her role as a special adviser to Gianni Infantino, the president of football’s world governing body, to create a multisport safeguarding organisation. She told Pace there was “evidence of perpetrators jumping from sport to sport” and that “it’s not an option, not to act”.
The International Olympic Committee’s working group on the prevention of harassment and abuse in sport is due to report its initial findings in two weeks, with a $10m (£8m) budget to start to tackle the problem before next year’s Olympic Games. But the IOC’s sports director, Kit McConnell, said the challenge needed to be approached from first principles, with national and international solutions needed. “Do we know what works? Not entirely,” he said.