Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The media owes Aminata Diallo an apology as loud as their accusations

Posted on 25 November 2021 by Yara El-Shaboury
Aminata Diallo
Aminata Diallo for Paris Saint-Germain / Credit: ShutterStock

Aminata Diallo and her reputation has been dragged through the mud over a false allegation. The French footballer who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, has been caught up in a media nightmare after an assault incident.

The Incident

Here are the facts that were released to the public via French police.

  1. Diallo was driving home with fellow French and Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kheira Hamraoui in the passenger seat on November 4th.
  2. Two masked men attacked the car. Hamraoui was dragged out of the vehicle and assaulted with iron bars.
  3. Aminata Diallo was detained for questioning on November 10th.

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The statement given by the club was as follows:

“Paris Saint-Germain can confirm that Aminata Diallo was taken into custody this morning by the Versailles Regional Police Service. This is part of the proceedings opened following an attack on the club’s players last Thursday evening. Paris Saint-Germain condemns in the strongest possible terms the violence committed.”

“Since Thursday evening, the club has taken all necessary measures to guarantee the health, well-being and safety of its entire women’s team. Paris Saint-Germain is working with the Versailles Police to clarify the facts. The club is paying close attention to the progress of the proceedings and will study what action to take.”

The information, given by the French police and the club, was the only confirmed facts of the case.

What Was Reported

However, these facts weren’t the ones that made headlines. Instead, it was a bunch of accusations that turned out to be untrue.

It started when L’Équipe, a national French daily newspaper that covers sport, first reported the story. In their report, they claimed that Diallo was the one who hired the two masked men to drag Hamroaoui out of her car and assault her.

The French newspaper also reported that Diallo likely recruited the men to attack her teammate because she was resentful of the playing time that Hamraoui was receiving. Both women are defensive midfielders. According to L’Équipe, Diallo wanted to ensure her own spot on the team sheet. The attack was allegedly a way for her to eliminate the competition from her teammate.

L’Équipe’s story went viral, and some of the most prominent news outlets worldwide picked it up.

Several of these news sources took the opportunity to wrongfully compare Diallo to Tonya Harding, a former American figure skater.

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Harding’s ex-husband and his friend attacked her biggest competition and fellow U.S. skating rival Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Olympics.

For over 24 hours after L’Équipe broke the story, Diallo, Hamraoui, and Harding’s names were trending on Google Trends, Facebook and Twitter worldwide.

Google Trends
Google Trends showing the increase in web searches of Aminata Diallo, Kheira Hamraoui, and Tonya Harding.

An abundance of press that has never cared to cover women’s football were suddenly experts on Diallo, her character, and her supposed motives.

What Actually Occurred

What these stories did not say was that Diallo was also a victim of the attack.

Her lawyer, Mourad Battikh, said that although Diallo was never forced out of the car like Hamraoui was, she was pinned to the steering wheel, threatened, verbally abused and hit.

Diallo’s supposed reasoning behind the attack was also spun and overblown by the media significantly.

Hamraoui has played a total of 424 minutes this season for PSG, while Diallo has played 375 in Division 1. Both women have been quite important to this Paris Saint-Germain side, who are looking to retain the league title.

It makes very little sense for one to go to such lengths and hire an attack on their teammate when both get almost equal game time.

The investigation is still ongoing, with police now set to question former footballer Eric Abidal in relation to the case. The former Barcelona star took to Instagram to apologize to his wife, following an alleged affair between Abidal and Hamraoui.

Racism in Sports Media

Despite there being a lot of unanswered questions, one thing is certain. Initial media reports on the story were wide off the mark and reek of blatant racism and misogynoir.

As of late, the sports world has had to grapple with its history of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. And the media has played a significant role in analyzing how the sporting world, and in a larger sense, society, can and should move forward.

However, this is an instance where the media itself served as the catalyst for a damaging representation of a black woman, which affected the public’s attitudes towards Diallo, leading to negative real-world consequences for her.

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After the story went viral online, thousands of racist and abusive comments were sent towards Diallo. Even more were made about the status and professionalism of women’s football.

Effect on Diallo

“I think that my client has been exonerated. She had been released free from a slanderous, scandalous and incoherent custody. Slanderous because it casted scorn on her and her family,” said Battikh to BFM TV, a French rolling news channel.

“Scandalous because she was released without any charges against her and incoherent. Because the investigation is now going in another direction. My client is very affected psychologically by the media storm.”

“More than 6,000 articles have been published in national and international media. It is very damaging that she is famous for [this now] and that [the] media [has] only got an interest in her in this way. However, she is determined to clear up her name and prove her innocence on a legal aspect.”

The coverage of Diallo has shown that the media industry must be held to a higher standard. It needs to actively be aware of the way inherent biases can influence perceptions of guilt and innocence.

Every publication that reported false accusations in the name of journalism should be held accountable for enabling and allowing the racist abuse to spread and tarnish Diallo’s reputation, something that will, unfortunately, hang over her head for the rest of time.