The Dark Side of the “Beautiful” Game

An inquiry into the extent that sexual assault crimes and rapes that go unnoticed in the world of soccer.

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It was a cold and rainy night in the suburbs of Paris as S.M. Caen and Paris Saint-Germain were set to kick off in a U17 youth match. Twenty-two tremendously talented individuals lined the pitch as onlookers prepared for what they were sure would be a great match. Elye Wahi, Caen’s star striker, was of particular interest. The then 14-year-old had scored an astonishing 89 goals in the previous season and was hungry for more. French soccer fans would soon be astonished when Wahi was cut from the academy after being physically aggressive to a supervisor. Though Wahi committed a crime as it is, little would fans know that the truth was far more horrid than could be imagined.

For the past four years, soccer fans were led to believe that Wahi was merely a violent person, but new reports suggest he is responsible for far greater crimes. Highly regarded French soccer journalist Romain Molina came out with a bombshell report last month that included sexual assault allegations against Wahi. Molina received reports that Wahi’s time at Caen was cut short due to a scandal uncovered by the club in which he physically threatened secondary school students until they undressed and masturbated in front of him. The French club caught wind of this situation and cut him while covering up his story. No court cases were pursued by S.M. Caen, and Wahi was not restricted from joining other clubs.

Now, four years later, Wahi plays professionally for Ligue 1 club Montpellier. Earlier this year, he was brought to court by a woman saying she was physically beaten by him at a nightclub. Though increasing publicity brought attention to his past actions, little to nothing has been done about Wahi. His story matches a trend of ignored sexual assault claims that are covered up while allowing perpetrarors to walk and play freely.

Wahi’s disgusting acts are remarkably not so uncommon. Along with bringing up Wahi’s past, Molina also revealed more cases of sexual assault in the soccer world that have yet to be addressed. These include the rapes of over 400 professional soccer players in their youth (many of whom contracted injuries or diseases as a result); a pedophilia scandal covered up by a French top division team; and the rape of a minor (who was forced into an abortion) at a FIFA center. Little evidence has been released regarding the claims. However, Molina is well-known in France and has a reputation certainly worthy of upholding.

Molina’s claims, if true, reveal the grand scope of sexual assault in sports like soccer that repeatedly fail to be addressed. Allegations are prevalent against coaches, staff members, and even fellow players, both in the men’s game and the women’s game. However, it should not be this way. FIFA, the governing body of worldwide soccer, has more than enough funding to create a committee tasked with investigating sexual assault claims and preventing such crimes. Committees exist in other leagues and sports. For example, the NCAA has a commission tasked with combating sexual violence. So why doesn’t FIFA?

There isn’t a clear-cut answer, but it’s apparent that FIFA isn’t giving the issue enough attention. The majority of sexual assaults committed in sports are when people who hold power take advantage of vulnerable athletes. As the most influential body of soccer, FIFA holds immense power and so do its constituents. It wouldn’t be outlandish to think that many perpetrators of sexual violence in soccer have strong ties to FIFA, thereby diminishing the possibility of a sexual assault committee.

The best way to deal with sexual assault in sports is through awareness and media attention. The probability that perpetrators are held accountable is greatly increased if there is widespread outrage against their actions. However, this process can’t happen when the vast majority of soccer fans isn’t even aware of what’s going on. A simple Google search of Wahi’s allegations reveals next to nothing; the same can be said for most of the other reported cases of sexual assault. It’s about time we start talking about sexual assault in soccer, rather than putting it aside and labeling it as taboo. Until soccer fans start seeing “the beautiful game” for what it really can be, sexual crimes will continue to plague the soccer community worldwide.