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Reign FC hiring of Farid Benstiti is highly concerning

Benstiti is known to have unhealthy expectations around fitness.

1. FFC Frankfurt v Paris St. Germain - UEFA Women’s Champions League Final Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images

“You need to get thinner.” That was what the coaching staff at Paris Saint-Germain told a young Lindsey Horan when she played in France. “You need to lose weight, you need to get thinner, you need to run more.”

Horan told this to Yahoo Sports last year before the World Cup, detailing how the club’s requests that players get thinner was “more [about] how you were seen and not how it was helping you play.” Horan told the New York Times that the PSG coaching staff told her she was benched until she lost weight despite beating teammates in a fitness test, and that they made comments about women’s appearances, such as “frumpy” workout wear, or Horan chipping a nail. Horan said they told one player with short hair “she needed to look more like a girl.” The man in charge of it all? Farid Benstiti. And Reign FC are reported to have just hired him as their new head coach.

According to The Equalizer, Benstiti will officially sign on as the Reign’s head coach before the draft on Thursday. He was head coach for Olympique Lyonnais from 2001-2010, had a short stint with Russian club Rossiyanka, coached PSG from 2012-2016, then moved to Chinese side Dalian Quanjian. And now, a possible jump to the NWSL.

It’s clear why Reign FC would hire Benstiti - his long stint with Lyon probably pushed him to the top of the candidate pool with the recent OL Groupe takeover. Bill Predmore might still be CEO, but what Jean-Michel Aulas wants, Jean-Michel Aulas gets. Maybe that’s a mean assumption, that Predmore is playing the tune that Aulas wants to hear, but the reverse assumption is hardly any better: that Predmore hired a man who has very publicly been called out for his toxic behavior towards players and unhealthy approach to fitness.

The Reign did not respond to a press request for comment on the hiring of Benstiti by the time of publication, so for now, we don’t really know what they were thinking. Probably that Lyon and PSG overall did pretty well with Benstiti, and he’ll keep their new extremely rich owner happy. But regardless of the intention, the effect here could be dangerous for the athletes who fall under Benstiti’s authority. Focusing on physical appearance, regardless of performance, could lead to these athletes developing body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in an attempt to control their weight. As sports nutritionist Nancy Clark put it for Soccer Today, “If you are always thinking about whether or not eat, and how much to exercise, you are not thinking about feeling imperfect or inadequate.” You can’t control a coach benching you, but you can control how much you eat or how much you train.

A 2014 study on the prevention of eating disorders in female athletes from the Journal of Sports Medicine said that the prevalence of disordered eating in female athletes can range as high as 27%, and the National Eating Disorder Association cites a study of NCAA DI athletes where “over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa.” Among the risk factors for athletes is the belief that lower body weight will improve performance. The NCAA itself cautions against emphasizing reducing weight or fat to enhance performances, resulting in an increased risk of restrictive dieting, weight loss methods, and disordered eating. Athletes may also engage in excessive training, a trait that can easily be misinterpreted as passion or a drive to succeed, particularly in a culture where having the strongest work ethic is often praised and admired.

The physical and psychological damage of focusing on physical appearance can take its toll for years. It’s not just the increased risk of injury - athletes with eating disorders “tend to have shorter careers characterized by inconsistency and recurrent injury” - it’s the persistent guilt and shame too.

“I wasn’t going to let someone like that make me quit,” Horan says of Benstiti in her Adidas commercial. Thank goodness for that. Short of simply not hiring the man (unlikely), it’s on the Reign to ensure that Benstiti doesn’t do the same thing to any of the players he coaches for them.