Will a clause against gender-based violence change Argentinian football?

Francisco Navas

Ricardo Centurión is toxic. But the winger’s raw skill — his game is full of stepovers and mazy runs – appears to blind fans to his repeated transgressions. Time and time again, he is forgiven.

Since turning professional with Racing Club in 2012, the 27-year-old has had three of his professional contracts rescinded for his behavior. Among other things, he has fallen out of favor for partying too much; been photographed in his swimming trunks while holding a shotgun; insulted the president of Boca Juniors; tried to bribe a police officer to avoid a drink-driving test; crashed his car while trying to evade police; fought his own teammates; and argued with his manager mid-game. That last incident ended in his exile on loan to Liga MX, although he is now back in Argentina with Vélez Sarsfield, on loan from Racing Club. With seven games of the season left, Vélez manager Gabriel Heinze hopes Centurión won’t blow up again. Only time will tell.

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To many in Argentina, Centurión is little short of a criminal. But one aspect of his behavior is particularly troubling, and has made Vélez Sarsfield insert a unique clause into his contract. It also raises questions about Argentina itself.

In 2013, his then-girlfriend accused him of beating her, breaking three of her teeth and giving her two black eyes in the process. During a TV interview, she shared messages from Centuriòn in which he appeared to check up on her injuries. “Let’s not let this happen again,” he wrote to her on Facebook.

Centurión was not charged over the allegations, but Vélez Sarsfield have inserted a clause in his contract saying it will be terminated if he is accused of gender violence. The club says the clause will become standard in all future contracts for players but will not specify its terms to avoid it being exploited.

“Ricardo’s signing was the moment to do it,” Paula Ojeda, the lawyer behind the clause, tells the Guardian. She had been mulling over the idea for a year and she believes Centurión’s signing was the perfect moment to act.

The forward shared the pitch with Lautaro Martinez during his second stint Racing Club in 2017. Photograph: Agustin Marcarian/Getty Images

Ojeda is the head of Vélez’s department for gender violence, a new branch of the club founded after the club rewrote its official code. Ojeda is a lifelong supporter of the team, and the work she does for the club is pro bono.

Like most top-flight Argentinian clubs, Vélez offers housing and schooling to academy players, and Ojeda hopes her work can influence them. “The idea is that we can use [the clause] to educate young players coming up through our academy system.” Ojeda says.

Argentina is one of the most socially liberal countries in South America – for example, it recently legalized adoption for gay couples – but the country still has work to do. Glaringly, violence against women is an epidemic. According to La Casa del Encuentro, a women’s rights non-profit, a woman is murdered or killed by manslaughter every 32 hours in Argentina. Additionally, 65% of murders of women in the last decade happened in their own homes. In June 2015, women took to the street in response to the violence. Ni Una Menos, a feminist group, led a strike against femicide. A Buenos Aires march saw a turnout in the tens of thousands.

The same wave of feminism is holding clubs in Argentina accountable for the first time too. Florencia Duarte of Salvemos al Fútbol, an Argentinian nonprofit working against violence and corruption in the sport, notes that Vélez’s clause may be seen as targeting Centurión but she calls it an “innovative” solution to a problem that sports teams have failed to confront.

Until now, the standard move by clubs has been to sell the problem player onto another club more willing to take a gamble, or just ignore the situation until they are forced to act. But Vélez’s decision to introduce the clause “marked a before and after” in the way the club – and hopefully football as a whole – deal with gender violence, says Duarte. “The person cannot be separated from his skill as a player”.

Ojeda recognizes there is work left to do. “There are fans that sing the songs and celebrate goals, We need to start with them, too, to make a change in society.”