Considering the Spanish Football Association Abuse 

Sep 8, 2023

By Ellen Zavian, Professorial Lecturer in Law at GWU and General Counsel USA Lacrosse

I have been in this situation. A colleague, acquaintance, or opposing counsel/personnel grabs my cheeks and locks my face in the ‘no-place-to-go-position’ and am forced to do something I just don’t want to do, receive a kiss on the lips. As the first female NFL sports agent, first executive director of the US National Team Soccer Players Association, and currently, a Board of Trustee of Safe Sport International, I am always torn as to what to say to my son when we discuss an incident such as this.

In my 20’s, I could not say anything because my NFL Player’s contract was on the line. As an executive director, I said nothing because the coach and player relationship were two ‘consenting adults’. And now, as the Board of Trustee, I realize I was not mature enough to understand the true dynamics of a coach/player or an agent/NFL personnel relationship.

In my head, I would justify the actions of the other. Perhaps that is the way he expresses himself. Perhaps it is part of his up-bringing/culture. Perhaps it is with no ill-intent. No matter the words that swirled around in my head at the time, at minimum, I should have shared my discomfort.

Today, everything is recorded and posted, so the decision-making process is no longer solely put upon the athlete’s shoulders. As in the current Spanish Coach’s situation, the sports organizations have developed detailed athlete abuse prevention policies. I encourage these organizations to implement them! 

In September, I will be attending the Safe Sport International Conference. It is part of my journey to heal and forgive myself for not speaking up when I should have, for myself and others. It is the time that I will learn from the experts to ensure the next generation can make an informed decision when faced with a ‘kiss-on-the-lips’.

Safe Sport International’s Statement regarding Spanish Football Association

Safe Sport International fully supports the Spanish Women’s Football Team players. We call on FIFA, UEFA, and Member Associations across the World to take action to sanction the Spanish Football Association in line with Football Safeguarding Statutes and Policies. We call upon them to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the abusive behaviours of members of the Spanish Football Association, including its President and National Women’s Team Coach, which breach the fundamental human rights of their players. Every member of the Football Association who clapped the President at Friday’s Assembly meeting is as complicit as the President himself. If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing.

Football authorities must address abusive behaviour towards both football players, staff, and volunteers – regardless of gender identity – as inter-personal violence and invoke a safeguarding response using that Code and the Safe Sport Policy that all stakeholders have agreed to, with no exceptions. This should not just be treated as a risk to the integrity and reputation of the sport. This is why abuses of power in sport need to be dealt with outside of the sport bodies, who fail to recognise and respond to institutionalised abuse in plain sight. These behaviours ruin and cost lives. Now is the time to act.

SSI Trustee Board

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