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Diego Guacci and the Dark Side of Argentine Football

Reports of abuse and sexual violence in Argentine football have shocked the country. Boys and girls are equally affected. Now, more and more victims are beginning to speak out.
The horror is written all over Luciana Bacci's face.

The horror is written all over Luciana Bacci's face.

"The fact that they protect an abuser is a disgrace. It shows us that if you are a girl and they rape, abuse or hurt you at a (football) club, you won't be believed," says the Argentine player in the wake of a ruling by FIFA ethics judges failing to crack down on an allegedly abusive coach.

Bacci has made a name for herself as a champion of women's rights in Argentine football. Her fury on Argentine television about the Diego Guacci case was shared countless times on social media.

The football union, FIFPRO, expressed similar shock when asked by DW about the Guacci case.

"Five female football players have presented strong and credible evidence against the coach. They recounted how, over a number of years, they were victims of shocking and recurrent maltreatment by the coach who had a duty to safeguard them as teenagers and young women."

In their statement, FIFPRO said the verdict raises "extremely serious questions about how professional football keeps players safe."

Accused coach still teaching

Guacci made his career in Argentine girls' and women's football, worked for FIFA as an expert on South American football and was once considered a model coach.

After examining the allegations and evidence against him, the FIFA ethics panel, made up of three men, ruled that although the judges believed the players' testimony, there was not enough evidence to punish their coach. The ruling meant that Guacci can continue to coach female football players.

The FIFA report quotes one player who reported speaking with the coach in a video conference: "We were talking about tactics and how I should reflect on my game. Suddenly out of the blue, Diego Guacci said, ‘I'm embarrassed to ask you this, but can you take off your shirt and show me your breasts?' The shocked girl refused, but Guacci went ahead and showed his apparently erect genitalia in a pair of boxer shorts.

The taboo topic: Sexual abuse

"It's a taboo subject. A topic that immediately triggers a defensive reaction," rights activist Mariana Elena Leuzzi tells DW. 

 The 69-year-old fights for victims of sexual violence through her NGO the Association of Rape Victims, AVIVI, and she has tangled previously with football structures. In fact, Leuzzi says she received death threats after publicly reporting on cases of sexual abuse and intimidation of boys at football academies associated with the big Argentine clubs River Plate and Independiente.

Mariana Elena Leuzzi is fighting for the rights of abuse victims in Argentinian football

Mariana Elena Leuzzi is fighting for the rights of abuse victims in Argentinian football

When she released the first case in 2018, Leuzzi suddenly received more than 100 messages from victims of other Argentine youth academies. 

"It was terrible, because these young football players, who lived at football academies, were boys who came from far away from other countries or other provinces, all with the dream of becoming the next [Diego] Maradona, [Lionel] Messi or Ronaldinho," Leuzzi tells DW. "And it was precisely this relationship of trust that was exploited by some coaches."

Bacci recognizes the same pattern in women's football. 

"Sexual abuse within clubs is often due to a complicity of silence," Bacci told the magazine "Obdulio". There is a fear of speaking out, she said, because of the risk of being punished and no longer being able to play football. "I think that men who commit sexual abuse or harassment take advantage of this fear that female players have."

Courage of the victims, AFA reaction

Mariana Elena Leuzzi believes what distinguishes the Argentine women in the Guacci case, as well as the boys in the case of the football academies, is tremendous courage.

"You always need someone with the strength to say it. Then the other victims follow him or her," Leuzzi says.

Football-crazy Argentina: Many children dream of a world-class career

Football-crazy Argentina: Many children dream of a world-class career

The Argentine Football Association (AFA) recently responded to the accusations by setting up what it says is the first gender equality office in the world of football. It is an attempt, according to the AFA, to strengthen women's rights within the game. 

Lawyer Paula Ojeda has been put in charge of the task by the AFA and told DW the creation of the office means "recognizing and overcoming stereotypes and prejudices" and that the aim must be "to respect the other person, their space, personality, beliefs and body." Only with these efforts, she adds, will it be possible to achieve the changes that football needs.

Ojeda sees the first signs of change in Argentina's football culture: "Now even the media discusses it when a player is denounced for gender-based violence." This was not the case in the past, she says, and is a first step in the right direction. Ojeda points to her focus now as significantly improving the prevention of situations of sexual abuse or violence inside and outside football's institutions.

This article was originally written in German.

Courtesy: DW

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