In her exclusive column for GiveMeSport, England and Manchester City star Lucy Bronze discusses the reports of sexual misconduct and harassment emerging from the National Women’s Soccer League.
When I heard about the sexual misconduct allegations coming from the NWSL, I was shocked, but unfortunately not surprised.
You hear about things like that all the time, not necessarily in football, but in all walks of work and life. Most of the time they never really come out, so the players in the NWSL have been incredibly brave to speak up and talk about it.
Since the allegations were published by The Athletic, everyone here is discussing it. Not just in the Manchester City dressing room, but at all the other WSL teams as well.
You kind of take it personally, because it could have happened to you. It could have happened to your best mate that you play on a team with. It could have happened to anyone.
Opening up a wider conversation
I was contacted by FIFPro last week after the sexual misconduct allegations came out. They asked me what they could do to help, how they could spread awareness, and how to support players who have found themselves in similar situations.
For me, there are two sides: I think more can be done to educate players on what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, and then to also help them feel more comfortable when reporting incidents that happen.
Sometimes it’s easier for a player to just laugh off a joke or let things go, but that’s when things can escalate. They need to know that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable about something.
It needs to be made clear where players can go if something does happen. A place for a player to report an incident, but also to have someone to speak to, in case they have been badly affected.
These places do exist in the WSL, but I’m not sure how many players would know where to go. If I was in that situation, I’m not sure if I would know. These places should be better publicised.
Finally, it’s about making sure coaches treat women in the right way. Regardless of whether you work in women’s sport or not, it should just be the norm that women are treated with respect.
A change in culture
As a woman, sometimes you worry about your voice being heard. Are you going to be told to shut up and sit down? Sometimes you feel like people don’t really listen.
But it only takes one person to stand up and make some noise for more people to speak out or feel more comfortable.
The world is now listening, which is only going to make other people feel more confident to speak up. More people are going to be aware of these instances of abuse and misconduct.
There might be someone who thinks, ‘that happened to me’, but they didn’t realise it was a bad thing at the time because they were told it wasn’t. They may now feel empowered to speak up.
Sometimes it takes something to explode and become a bigger issue for these things to be highlighted and produce a change in culture. Which is a shame really, because it means something bad had to happen for something good to emerge off the back of it.
NWSL and WSL on-pitch protests
I feel like in the U.S., more so than any other country, they are very vocal about standing up for themselves. I think it sends a really good message to all of women’s football, to women’s sport, and to women in general.
They are there to play football, but football is actually second to an issue like this. When the NWSL players stopped their matches to link arms last week, they showed they are willing to sacrifice playing football to make sure their point is heard.
When they went back to the game, they were still making the point that they were sticking together.
The WSL stood in unity with the NWSL at the weekend, and not just because of the incidents in the U.S. Chances are there are more stories that have not been told, because girls perhaps don’t feel confident or safe enough to speak out.
I’m sure there are more stories like this across the world that we just don’t know about. So it’s something everybody wants to stand up against, to make sure protocols are put in place and ensure these situations never happen again.