Carolina Rozo (C), who now works to prevent sexual abuse in football, also highlights football’s male dominated administration as one of the main causes for abuse and harassment to go under reported across the world.
In 2018, having faced sexual harassment regularly in her role as a physiotherapist for the Colombian U-17 women’s team, Carolina Rozo, approached the federation to intervene and take action against the coach Didier Luna. It has been over two years and now, finally Rozo has found a small measure of justice.
Luna, who had initially denied all allegations when charged with sexual assault, has now agreed a plea deal with the prosecutor’s office on June 9, that meant he only avoided going to prison and has agreed to a reduced charge of injuria, essentially admitting to harassment just one time.
The former physiotherapist of U-17 women’s team, Rozo, spoke about the kind of abuse and trauma she faced when working under Luna, in a long ranging interview with The Guardian’s Suzanne Wrack.
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“I was sexually harassed by the manager as soon as I went to the job,” Rozo said in the interview. “It started with words. He would tell me I was very pretty and then he would try to take advantage of me when we were together at mealtimes and other places. Saying goodbye he would push himself against me very hard and whisper into my ear how much he liked me.”
Rozo’s reports to the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) included not just her own experiences with Luna, but also those told to her by players she treated. Once the federation failed to deal with the claims adequately, Rozo spoke out publicly.
Rozo said the tipping point for her came when Luna approached her: “He came to the dining room where we were eating with a photograph of me,” she says. “He pointed at the photograph and said ‘That’s the woman I want,’ and, ‘Be careful, because if you’re not careful I’ll kiss you.’ So I said to him, don’t you dare do that, we are just eating.”
Luna highlighted that hers was not an isolated case. When she approached the federation she was also concerned about the players and the ripple effect the head coach’s behaviour had throughout the male staff. “I told them I had noticed he was acting in a strange way with the female players,” says Rozo. “One of the players was injured and she came and told me that another of the training staff had come into her room and tried to abuse her. And then when I was doing the rounds in the evening, to the different players for medical assistance, they started to tell me about how uncomfortable they felt about how they were being touched by the coach.”
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Rozo says her only motivation for staying with the team was to build a case against Luna and protect the young players, but the situation took its toll mentally. “September 2018 I had a crisis of depression and I decided to make a formal complaint against this guy. When I saw nothing happened as a result, I became braver and made a complaint to the media.”
The impact of Rozo’s was strong in and outside Colombia. In a statement in March 2019 The FCF said it “categorically rejects sexual and labour harassment, and declares zero tolerance for acts that in any way threaten the integrity of any member of our Colombian teams”.
Rozo has been approached by players in Ecuador for assistance and now works with several government departments and charities to try to prevent abuse and harassment in women’s football.
However, Rozo admits that nothing has changed to protect players and safeguard them within the FCF. “Even though the government is monitoring this case they really haven’t done anything to make life easier for female footballers.
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“The players don’t speak out because the federation has a thing hanging over them, a veto, where if they speak out they can be immediately removed from the team,” she said, before adding that the lack of support was fuelled by an establishment deeply ingrained in primitive ideas of masculinity. The lack of women in decision making roles as well as a lack of knowledge among those in power on how to deal with sexual abuse makes it more difficult for younger players to speak up.
“It’s very difficult for a young footballer to make a complaint for a number of reasons. It brings out a lot of emotions and you feel like you risk falling out of love with football,” Rozo said. “You’re scared, you think you might not be believed…”
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