Panama FA boss Manuel Arias attempts to ‘fat shame’ Marta Cox after post-W Gold Cup comments

March 7 – In the post-Rubiales federation world of football governance within the women’s game, Manuel Arias, president of the Panamanian Soccer Federation, has clearly not got with the programme, instead choosing to let loose on his country’s star striker attempting to humiliate and ‘fat-shame’ her into keeping her mouth shut.

Marta Cox, who led the Panamanian forward line at the W Gold Cup, speaking to local media after Panama were knocked out, said the biggest problem facing players in Panama is the lack of good quality facilities to develop players.

She pointed out that there was a lack of grass surfaces in the country, saying the Rommel Fernández stadium and the new Universitario field are not accessible to the majority of the country’s leading players who train on the synthetic pitch of ‘Cascarita’ Tapia, which doesn’t meet the standards of professional football.

Arias, angry that Cox expressed her opinion on the game in Panama, turned the debate personal, saying: “Marta Cox stopped to talk about our league. She’s out of shape, she’s fat, she couldn’t move on the pitch.”

Panama, who qualified for the World Cup in 2023, failed to make it out of the group stage at the W Gold Cup in what was a disappointing campaign for them. Cox plays her club football for Xolos de Tijuana in Mexico’s LigaMX.

“You have to do ‘mea culpa’ and the players were not physically well,” said Arias. “It’s very easy to talk, but she doesn’t know anything about the Panama league for years, she doesn’t know what’s going on here.”

It was an astonishing outburst from a federation president that is unlikely to go unnoticed by world governing body FIFA who have made inclusion and equality a key part of their manifesto for the women’s game worldwide. Where FIFA moved fast to sanction Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales over his actions at the presentation ceremony for the 2023 World Cup, it will be difficult for them not to move against Arias over the same issue of harassment and gaslighting.

The lack of respect shown by Arias would not be acceptable in civil society, let alone in football where ‘respect’ has long been one its fundamental governing principles.

Arias’ comments have been condemned within Panama with the country’s Association of Professional Footballers, a member of Fifpro, issuing a statement saying his comments are both “reprehensible and unfortunate. Respect for athletes is essential to strengthen our football. The words used to describe Marta go against the principles of healthy coexistence and respect. We ask the FEPAFUT to foster an environment of respect towards those who defend the shield.”

The statement continued: “The derogatory language not only affects Marta, but also influences the perception of the sports community. We urge the Federation to advocate for fair and considerate treatment of all members of the team. For what has been said, we demand that Manuel Arias make a necessary public apology, in addition to implementing an open-door policy, where the right of every Panamanian to free expression is not punished.

“Practicing retaliation breaks down the bridges that should exist between players and managers. Ties that serve to ensure that the leadership is not seen as a dictatorship, where the players are not suppressed when expressing themselves on the issues that overwhelm us.”

For his part Arias has now issued an apology but it is unlikely to undo the damage done, either to the perception of the women’s game in Panama or the credibility of his own presidency and leadership.

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