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A shameful story from South Africa
by Paul Gardner, September 1st, 2009 1:30PM

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By Paul Gardner

I write in shame. My own shame, for a start -- for not being aware of a horrifying soccer story, of a dreadful murder that happened a year ago.

A murder. And a rape. The victim was Eudy Simelane, a member of the South African women's national soccer team -- the Banyana Banyana.

Eudy's life ended on an open field, not a soccer field. Her semi-nude body was left there after she was allegedly gang-raped by four young men, and then wantonly stabbed many times, mostly in the face.

The trial of three of those men has just started in Johannesburg. The crucial thing to know about Eudy is that she was gay, and that she lived her lesbian life openly.

Evidently an incredibly brave thing to do in South Africa. That country's Lesbian and Gay Equality Project tells us of a phenomenon that, disgustingly, is known as "corrective rape." The LGEP director, Phumi Mtetna, told the London Times: "We believe there are hundreds of people who have been targeted. Men are unemployed and feel traditional male preserves -- such as soccer or drinking in a bar -- are under attack."

According to the London Daily Telegraph South African gay rights activists believe the Simelane case represents a far wider phenomenon than is officially acknowledged, with lesbian women being raped to supposedly "correct" their orientation.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera states that the men on trial are charged only with murder. There is no charge of rape, and the judge has already ruled that the "sexual orientation of the victim has no relevance to this case."

Only three men are on trial because the fourth has already been convicted of robbery and murder and sentenced to 32 years in jail. He has since withdrawn his evidence implicating the others, announcing that he has now "found God" and wishes to tell the truth.

The story is chilling, utterly appalling. It finds space here, of course, because it has a strong soccer connection (though I don't want to suggest that that makes it special). Admittedly, I do not write about women's soccer -- I leave that to those who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about it. But those others, much more informed than I, seem also not to have been aware. I am still finding it incredible that I heard nothing of this story for over a year.

I'm imagining, or trying to imagine, what the situation would have been had some similar atrocity been inflicted on a male player of the Bafana Bafana. Surely there would have been reaction from FIFA, which stands at the moment as South Africa's great champion? Then again, suppose it had been a gay player, what then?

Next year we shall have the World Cup in South Africa and we have been told, if not ad nauseam, then certainly ad tedium by FIFA and Sepp Blatter and South African leaders that it will be a unifying event, that it will boost the South African economy, that it will advance the cause of Africa in general ... and so on. Nothing but sunshine all the way.

Yes, I write in shame. My own, and that of the leaders of worldwide soccer, who seem to have managed to avoid an embarrassing situation. The case of "The lesbian who was marked for death by her love of football" was how the London Times headed its story. Hyperbole, yes -- but there is more than enough soccer in this agonizing tale to warrant strong words, if not strong action, from the sport's biggies.

Try the FIFA website. Use its search engine. Enter Eudy Simelane. The shameful answer: No Results Found.

 



0 comments
  1. Steve Branson
    commented on: September 1, 2009 at 2:33 p.m.
    This is a terrible and shocking story, for sure. It's tragic that this would happen to anyone, soccer player or not. However, to me, it seems a far stretch to pin blame on FIFA for a lack of response to this horrible event. It appears to me to be a social problem, not a soccer problem. I've grown increasingly weary of your unrelenting negative attitude and writings about the game, it's governing bodies, the players, the fans, and whatever else you can stretch to blame on them. I understand occasional criticism where it is due, but it seems as though you're on a single-minded negative track in the majority of your articles. How about some positive stories in an otherwise difficult world?


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