In mid-May, the Gabon U-20 women’s national team traveled to Marseille for the Sud Ladies Cup. The tournament should have been a good opportunity for the young team to develop their skills and get the feel for an international tournament. But instead, the tournament quickly dissolved into hell on and off the field.
On the field, the players conceded 44 goals and scored none, unless you count the two own goals. They lost all five of their matches. But off the field, the players were forced into a cramped hotel room, where small mattresses were pushed together side-by-side on the floor of a large room (you can see a photo of the conditions here). The players had their phones and passports confiscated. They still haven’t been paid.
These conditions would be unacceptable on their own. But in addition to these problems, the women have also reported allegations of rape and sexual assault. I couldn’t find details of the allegations, but the Sports Minister of Gabon said, “Young women selected to the national team’s under-20 football team, report abuse, sexual harassment, touching and rape allegedly committed by the team’s technical and administrative staff.”
The Sports Minister, Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze asked the Gabonese Football Federation (FEGAFOOT) to open an investigate. He also referred the matter to a public prosecutor, which could lead to legal proceedings.
FEGAFOOT released a statement condemned alleged sexual practices between the players and members of staff, but avoided using language about sexual harassment or violence.
The information about this case is very limited. But as Shireen Ahmed said in her article for Time, as we approach the 2019 Women’s World Cup, it is important to remember the women who aren’t there. Women should not have to live in horrific conditions and suffer physical, mental, or sexual assault to play the sport that they love. And it’s up to us to stand by these women and make sure their stories are told. If they can’t count on the women’s soccer community, who can they count on?