Consent classes for footballers, but not cricketers?

The elite views footballers and football fans as rapists-in-waiting.

Last week, it was reported that Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club is providing its youth-team players with sexual-consent training. As part of the training, the players are given advice on the law and ethics surrounding sexual consent. This comes after four of Brighton’s players were cleared of the sexual assault of a woman in a hotel in 2013. Instead of leaving this case behind them, it seems the bosses have decided to make a stab at boosting the team’s popularity in Brighton’s leftish circles.

The programme is called Protect, Inform and Prevent (PIP). These sorts of classes are nothing new. Last September, it was revealed that undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge are being made to attend compulsory consent workshops. Perhaps the semantics here are telling: intellectual ‘workshops’ for Oxbridge students, ‘training’ for the ball-kicking apes.

Brighton’s decision to give its youth team consent training was no doubt influenced by the ongoing assumption that sexual violence is rife in football. Yes, we have the Ched Evans case to thank for that, but despite the impression given by the offence-seeking brigade on Twitter, before Evans there had never been a convicted rapist playing professional football in this country. While there are footballers playing today who have been convicted of crimes such as affray, assault and death by dangerous driving, rape charges are incredibly rare in football. So the idea that footballers are depraved young men who need to be trained not to harm women is simply not backed up by the facts.

But more troubling is the snobby and misanthropic message of these consent-training courses. The claim that they will reduce rape statistics, by, in the programme’s words, ‘preventing’ potentially abusive behaviour, is crude and classist. The implication is that, without this training, these youth players will likely go out into Brighton city centre on a Friday night and mindlessly take advantage of young women. It assumes the players have no moral compass or intellect of their own.

The current concern about footballers’ potentially abusive tendencies reflects the prejudice of the chattering classes towards footballers. Despite the popularity of the game, elite hatred of players increases every year. The general consensus seems to be that footballers are brutish oafs at best, and vile rapists at worst. Just ask yourself: would a rugby player be asked to do sexual-consent training? Would there be a demand for county-cricket players to complete a PIP session? No, because these are civilised sports, played by nice lads who went to nice schools.

The most pernicious idea underpinning all this is that footballers are somehow role models. The argument goes that, because so many people look up to them, footballers must be trained to behave in a way your grandmother would be proud of. It is assumed that a footballer’s hold on his working-class fans’ minds is so strong that if he goes out and commits a crime, his fans will automatically assume it’s okay to do the same: monkey see, monkey do. Football fans are more intelligent than that, and it’s about time we stuck up for both them and players.

Michael P Fitzpatrick is a writer and researcher.

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