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'People are not afraid to speak anymore' - Boquete opens up on player revolt against abusive coaches

11:00 GMT 23/02/2022
Vero Boquete Spain 2015 World Cup
The 34-year-old paid a heavy price for the role she played in ousting former Spain coach Ignacio Quereda but her actions helped inspire a movement

Like so many others in the women's soccer world, Vero Boquete was stunned to read about the sexual harassment allegations made against Paul Riley.

However, the Spanish star was even more floored than most – and for good reason.

“I was literally in shock for a few days because I was there. I was [at the] Philadelphia Independence. I was [at the] Portland Thorns when all these things happened,” Boquete told GOAL on All of US: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Show.

Years after Boquete played under Riley at both locations, allegations of abuse and sexual coercion were leveled at the coach by multiple former players.

Riley was forced to resign in disgrace from his job as North Carolina Courage head coach.

Boquete kept asking herself the same question: How could I have missed this?

It seemed to her she should have known because, among other things, the midfielder was unfortunately no stranger to playing in abusive environments.

By the time she played under Riley in the early 2010s, she had already suffered for years under the iron grip of Spain national team head coach Ignacio Quereda.

But the Riley revelations hinted at a broader problem. In a culture of fear and silence, the truth doesn’t easily reveal itself – it must be shaken loose.

Boquete herself had taken a major risk to get the truth out about Quereda, and she had paid a hefty price.

In the aftermath of a disappointing performance at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, Spain’s players, led by Boquete, went public with their complaints against Quereda.

Among their grievances were an alleged culture of fear and intimidation as well as a lack of adequate preparation for the tournament.

“For us in Canada, it was the two things together: It wasn’t good enough on the personal side, but it also wasn’t good enough on the sporting side,” Boquete said.

“That was the moment that we said: ‘OK, this is the end. We [have to] change this and we can’t keep going in this direction.’”

Though their campaign was successful in ousting Quereda, Boquete paid a price for her activism.

Despite her unquestioned status as one of her country’s top players, she was phased out of the national team and would never play for La Roja again after she was controversially left off the squad for Euro 2017.

“The end was not the one that I wanted,” Boquete says. “It could’ve been better, that's for sure.”

In late 2021, amid a reckoning in the NWSL and elsewhere over abusive coaches and lack of institutional response, Boquete and several of her former team-mates were involved in a documentary about their time playing for Quereda that aired on Spanish television.

In the film, Boquete and others revealed extraordinary details about an alleged culture of rampant fear, bigotry, sexism and homophobia that Quereda created over 27 years as national team head coach – as well as alleged indifference from the Spanish federation about Quereda’s behavior.

“The reaction [to the documentary] was a surprise,” Boquete said. “So many people didn't know about the story or they knew just like five percent of what happened, or they knew about the final days when everything blew up, but they didn't know what we were suffering.”

Boquete, now playing in Italy with Fiorentina, looks back on her time playing under Riley and reckons with the fact that abuse can happen under the noses of so many.

“When people get ashamed, they don't talk about it,” Boquete said. “Then we just see it like it’s normal: 'Oh yeah. They are friends. They have a better relationship.'

"You just don't give importance to that. So, you think everything is going well and no one is suffering.”

But now, led by the action of Spain’s players in 2015 and players all over the the world last year, Boquete is hopeful that the culture of silence and cover-ups is coming to an end.

“Right now everyone is more sensible about all this,” Boquete says. “People are not afraid to speak anymore. It's more clear what is OK and what is not OK, and where the limits are.”

Though Boquete wasn’t on the field for it, Spain’s team has undergone a transformation since Quereda’s departure.

La Roja reached their first World Cup knockout phase in 2019 and are in the top 10 of FIFA’s world rankings.

At club level, Barcelona, led by some of Spain’s top players, has become the top women’s side in Europe.

Would it all have happened without the activism of Boquete and some of her team-mates?

“Probably not,” Boquete said. That is a legacy she insists makes her unceremonious departure from the national team worthwhile.

“I don't think that I deserved to go out in that way,” the 34-year-old said. “But, at the same time, it's the price I had to pay and if that is the consequence of changing the history of my sport in my country, I think that is not that bad.”