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Reuters Staff
KEEPING SCORE

Is global soccer about to have its #MeToo moment?

By Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz

A scandal has been brewing in South American soccer over the past 24 hours after a photo surfaced of Antonio Gonzalez, the wealthy president of Paraguayan soccer club Rubio Ne de Luqu, in bed with a former (male) player.

26-year-old Bernardo Gabriel Caballero has since accused the president of coercing him, and other players, into sexual relations in exchange for career advancement—approaching him with the offer back when he was just age 18. The scandal has rocked Paraguay, with some suggesting that the nature of the relationship points to a larger trend of sexual harassment across the sport that could emerge as global soccer’s version of the #MeToo moment.

Gonzalez, for his part, has insisted that the relationship was consensual, and accused the athlete of releasing the photo in an act of spite after he was fired from the soccer club. There’s also money involved: Gonzalez expected to be compensated for Caballero’s transferring to a different team, and claims the photo is part of a blackmail campaign so he can leave for free.

Caballero’s attorney denies the allegations. In a statement, Caballero said: “I do not wish anybody or another young player who wants to emerge in football to experience what I went through.”

At this point, the story is a bit “he said he said”, but that’s besides the point. What is key is that the story is largely being interpreted as yet the latest example of a powerful man taking advantage of someone vulnerable and early in their career. What’s more, this news came to light as the soccer world is still reeling from a 2015 FIFA corruption scandal.

Global soccer has had a hard time over the past year, even as it looks ahead to June’s World Cup in Russia. If allegations of widespread sexual misconduct prove true, this latest scandal might be the start of a long-awaited reckoning for the world’s most popular sport.