As Luis Suárez joined Johan le Roux and Mike Tyson in the annals of sports-biting history last month, across the water in Northern Ireland Alvin Rouse continues to play in goal for Ballinamallard United Football Club, despite facing three counts of rape, two of sexual assault, one of causing a person to engage in a sexual act and one of false imprisonment.
The difference in the narratives of the two cases is striking, as is the institutional response. Suárez was immediately fined by Liverpool for biting Ivanovic and received a 10-match ban from the FA for ‘violent conduct’. For similar offences, Le Roux was banned for 19-months, and Tyson for one year with a $3 million fine.
In the media, Suárez was denounced as a ‘serial offender’, an ‘idiot’, and for bringing the game into disrepute. Prime Minister David Cameron noted that as a ‘role model’ he had set the ‘most appalling example’. Conversely, the reporting of Rouse’s court appearance noted his tears in the witness stand and his strenuous denials of guilt. Such treatment of sportsmen charged or convicted of rape by the media seems common place with the recent conviction of two high school football stars for rape in Steubenville, Ohio receiving a much derided compassionate hearing on CNN and other media outlets. Over this side of the Atlantic, ITV reluctantly pulled on Monday its planned interview with the girlfriend of footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans who, convinced of his innocence despite his conviction and two failed appeals, continues to wage a ‘Justice for Ched’ campaign. Evans’ victim has been forced to relocate and assume a new identity due to the harassment and abuse of Evans’ rape apologist supporters.
Rape is one of the most under-reported, investigated, prosecuted and convicted crimes on the books. This is not because women lie or make up allegations of rape, as research released last month by the CPS in England and Wales clearly shows, but because of attitudes like those which allow Alvin Rouse to continue playing professional football despite the criminal charges he is facing.
What is it about the culture of male sports in which violence against women is excused, ignored and even tacitly condoned? Why do sport regulatory bodies invest millions in combating racism but remain silent or indifferent to sexism and misogyny? Rouse’s continued presence in Ballinamallard’s rotation is legitimised and buttressed by fervent reference to victim blaming narratives and rape ‘myths’, many of which serve as organising concepts around which the team cohesion necessary to ‘win at all costs’ is fostered.
Ballinamallard’s club manager, Whitey Anderson, who took the witness stand during Rouse’s recent hearing, and stumped up money for his bail, may argue that the club cannot be expected to take action against Rouse in the absence of court-sanctioned ‘proof’ of his guilt. Anderson would be in good company with Sheffield United continuing to play Ched Evans right up until his trial and conviction for rape. The logic that supports such a position seems disingenuous particularly given the history of sporting suspensions for less serious crimes, or misconduct, where similar ‘innocent until proven guilty’ logic could have been applied but wasn’t.