Marc Overmars’ rapid return to football is a slap in the face to victims of sexual harassment – TrendyNewsReporters

Marc Overmars’ rapid return to football is a slap in the face to victims of sexual harassment

Marc Overmars was never supposed to end up at Royal Antwerp. He was a crucial cog in the Ajax machine that reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2019, reportedly on Manchester United’s shortlist to be their new director of football and strongly linked with a move to newly-rich Newcastle in the same role.

Antwerp, with all due respect, are below his station. They haven’t won a Belgian title since the 1950s, have never won a match in the European Cup and were in the second tier in 2017.

It was Overmars’ abhorrent actions that determined his fall from grace when it was reported that he sent a number of unsolicited explicit messages – text and photo – to 11 female employees of Ajax. Cyberflashing is soon to be made a criminal offence in the UK.

Overmars resigned from his position but was not sacked, although he may have pre-empted his own dismissal. His behaviour, we are told, was infamous amongst female employees at the club.

So Antwerp’s appointment was one of opportunity. They could never have hoped to appoint him in “normal” circumstances (although women will tell you that cyber flashing is a worryingly commonplace practice).

They have eschewed morality in favour of ambition. Overmars will also reportedly more than double his Ajax wage in Belgium, joining them less than five weeks after the allegations broke in the Netherlands.

In response to criticism of the appointment, which has led to one of the club’s sponsors announcing its intention to terminate its deal, Sven Jacques, Royal Antwerp’s general manager, admitted that he had not directly consulted with female employees but instead spoke of “turning the page”. Do those female members of staff feel less safe in their workplace as a result? And what does the lack of consultation say about their club’s appraisal of the importance of their wellbeing?

Overmars may well have learnt the error of his ways, or at least been forced to address that his own behaviour was abhorrent – although that reminder should surely not have been required. He may well not re-offend and society allows for rehabilitation of conscience and reputation.

But that rehabilitation requires proof of changed behaviour and that proof requires time. In that context, five weeks is the blink of an eye, not least because Overmars is still under independent investigation for his behaviour in Amsterdam. He should have been banned from employment within any similar workplace – which Royal Antwerp constitutes – until that investigation is concluded.

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Even without an enforced ban, there are serious questions about Royal Antwerp’s amoral reasoning. This is not a he-said-she-said case. Ajax’s statement made specific reference to “inappropriate messages sent to several female colleagues over an extended period of time”. Overmars himself said he was “ashamed” and said he felt “enormous pressure”, but didn’t realise he had crossed a line (which is worrying in itself). There is no moral guilt left to be proven.

Antwerp’s appointment sends a message – fairly explicitly – that talent matters more than morality, that who you are is more important than what you did, however recently. It also, admittedly more implicitly, suggests that misogyny is not something to be taken seriously because it gives the appearance that there are few immediate consequences of that misogyny. That sends an appalling message to young supporters of the club.

But the last word deserves to go not to Overmars or Antwerp, but to all victims and survivors of sexual harassment and assault. They perennially wrestle with finding the courage to speak out against their suffering, coerced into staying silent by a culture that they believe penalises them as much as provides them with justice. Their victimhood can never be removed, but fully punishing those responsible – legally, societally and professionally – not only helps to provide solace but empowers other victims and, hopefully, shifts behaviour in potential perpetrators.

It is they who have been most let down. Overmars is free to carry on, in a similar role in a similar environment and at least for similar recompense. And so the galling defeatism permeates: Why should we bother when nobody really listens and it often never makes a difference?

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