Historic Spanish victory overshadowed by Rubiales controversy

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On the 20th August in Sydney, Australia, Spain beat England to claim the title in the Women’s World Cup.  However, this historic victory has been greatly overshadowed by controversy surrounding the conduct of Luis Rubiales who was at the time the president of the Spanish Football Federation.  After three weeks of outcries and calls for him to leave, Luis Rubiales resigned from his position.  

Rubiales’ behaviour at the final was heavily criticised.  His lewd gestures of grabbing his crotch while stood nearby Spain’s Queen Letizia and the teenage Princess Sofia drew criticism, but he sparked real outcry when he embraced and kissed Spanish forward Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the prize-giving ceremony after the final.  The controversy grew immediately, and fuel was added to the fire when Hermoso stated later that evening on a live stream that she “did not enjoy” the kiss.  She has since gone on to formally submit a complaint about Rubiales to Spain’s national prosecutor’s office.  Rubiales continues to insist the kiss was consensual, despite Hermoso stating otherwise.

The week following the final, which should have been full of joy and celebration, was instead full of disgust and calls from players, fans and politicians for Rubiales to resign, something he refused to do.  On 25th August, he insisted at a Spanish FA emergency meeting that he would not resign. In answer, later that day 81 Spanish players, including all 23 from the Women’s World Cup squad announced they would not play for the national team until he was removed from his position.

81 Spanish players … announced they would not play for the national team until he was removed from his position

The kiss not only prompted outrage but also opened the conversation around sexism and misogyny in Spain.  The words “Se Acabó” (in Spanish, “it’s over”), were used by Alexia Putellas on social media and they soon caught on.  #SeAcabó was soon on the shirts of Sevilla men’s football team, used by the UN, the Spanish government, and celebrities around the world.  The country’s acting Labour minister Yolanda Diaz posted on X, formerly Twitter, “we are with you, Jenni, and with all women”.

Rubiales stated on X on 10th September that “after [his] suspension by FIFA, and the rest of the cases building against [him], it is clear that [he] cannot return to the post”.  He has also resigned as UEFA vice president over fears that the scandal could put Spain’s joint bid to host 2030 men’s World Cup along with Portugal, Morocco and potentially Ukraine in danger. 

On 11th September Judge Francisco de Jorge of the National Court accepted the complaint and Rubiales will appear in court on Friday 15th September to testify.

In the days following the final there were multiple blunders made by the Spanish National Sports Council, including mistakenly honouring the celebrity Ivana Icardi with the country’s Royal Order of Sport’s Merit instead of World Cup winning captain Ivana Andres, and misspelling World Cup player of the tournament and UEFA Player of the Year Aitana Bonmati’s name in the Spanish official state gazette.

This is not the only case of outcries of sexism and abuse of power in Spanish football.  In interviews with the New York Times, more than a dozen women in Spanish football described systematic sexism which has lasted over a decade.  Verónica Boquete, who was captain of the Spanish national team from 2015-2017, described how women got bedtime checks and were told to leave their hotel doors open at night.

Women got bedtime checks and were told to leave their hotel doors open at night

Jorge Vilda, the coach who led the team to glory at the World Cup but has since been fired, had been criticised before for his humiliating management style.  In September of last year, 15 players refused to play while he was still coach.  At the time, instead of being sacked, he was supported by Rubiales, and the Federation demanded the players apologise.  Vilda has now been replaced by Montse Tomé, 41, the first woman to hold the position of head coach of the Spanish women’s side.

Spain, who are ranked second in the World, are scheduled to start the Women’s Nation’s League on 22ndSeptember in a visit to the top-ranked Sweden, who they beat in the semi-finals at the World Cup.  However, many continue to refuse to play for the national side until more significant change, meaning this isn’t going away any time soon.

Image: Storm Machine via Creative Commons

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