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Spanish Football Turns the Page on an Embarrassing Chapter after Ousting Luis Rubiales

Marc Pham

Sports Editor

Via Getty

Spain winning the Women’s World Cup should have been a cause for celebration for the nation’s football world - such a rapid ascent to glory by a squad that qualified for the tournament for the first time eight years ago after decades of mediocrity. Instead, it was tarnished by Luis Rubiales, the Spanish football federation president, kissing a player on the lips without her consent. Having sparked a crisis that eclipsed the original victory, the scandal draws the curtain on the sexism in the Spanish sporting world.

On August 20, during the trophy and awards ceremony in Sydney, Rubiales kissed forward Jenni Hermoso on the lips after the national team defeated England in the Women’s World Cup final. Rubiales later claimed that it was consensual and brushed off any suggestion that it was inappropriate. But Hermoso insisted otherwise, accusing him of sexual assault. “I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out-of-place act without any consent on my part,” she said in a statement posted on social media.

The incident caused an uproar in Spanish media the following day. Nadia Tronchoni, Sports writer for the newspaper El País wrote, “It’s an intrusion. An invasion of one’s personal space. Without consent. An aggression.”

Tronchoni’s sentiment was echoed by the general public, with Socialist politician Adrián Barbón describing the act as an “absolute lack of respect and an abuse that neither the moment, nor the euphoria, nor the joy justifies.” Even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez characterised the football chief’s actions as “unacceptable.”

The international community also voiced their support for Hermoso. Sarina Wiegman, England women’s team’s coach, spoke out against the vehement inequality in women’s football in her award acceptance speech after being crowned UEFA's Women's Coach of the Year. “The game has grown so much, but there's also still a long way to go in women's football and in society,” said Wiegman, who had guided the Lionesses to the World Cup final.

Rubiales’s scandal has diverted attention from the greatest victory in Spanish women's football and, ironically, the biggest win in Spanish football overall since the 46-year-old took charge. As a result, the championship-winning squad, along with dozens of players, initiated a boycott and refused to play again for their country until there were changes in the federation's leadership. Even the firing of Jorge Vilda, the team’s head coach who was unpopular due to the alleged sexist culture surrounding his program, was not enough to bring them back.

On August 27, one day after Rubiales defiantly declined to resign and claimed to be a target of a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “false feminists,” FIFA suspended him from his position. Then, following an emergency meeting the next week, the Spanish football federation requested Rubiales' resignation. After Spain's state prosecutors formally accused him of sexual assault, which could net him criminal charges and even possible prison time, Rubiales finally agreed to resign on September 10.

“The feminist country is advancing faster and faster,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, after Rubiales made his resignation public. “The transformation and improvement of our lives is inevitable. We are with you, Jenni, and with all women.”

Díaz had also been outspoken against Rubiales’s actions, saying that they were "shameful" and showed the systemic nature of male chauvinism in Spanish society.

Following lengthy investigations, Rubiales appeared in front of Judge Francisco de Jorge on September 15 and denied any wrongdoing when questioned about the kiss. After hearing him, the judge issued a restraining order that prohibits him from being within 200 meters of Hermoso.

Hermoso's lawyer, Carla Vall i Duran, said they were satisfied with the hearing. “Thanks to the [images of the kiss], the entire world, the entire country, has been able to observe there was no type of consent. And we are going to prove that in the courtroom.”

Three of Hermoso’s teammates, including two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, appeared before the judge on October 2 to testify as witnesses. Hermoso herself is also expected to testify at some point.

“What I hope is that he [Rubiales] goes away through a conviction, a sentencing, not because of his voluntary decision,” Victoria Rosell, a government official dealing with gender violence, was quoted as saying by EFE.

Most of the players ended their boycott a week following Rubiales’s ousting, but only after the government intervened to help shape an agreement to make immediate changes at the country's football federation, starting with the removal of its secretary general, Andreu Camps, considered to be close to Rubiales.

Amanda Gutierrez, president of the FUTPRO players’ union, said that they are working towards establishing equality for Spain’s women’s and men’s national teams, firstly in the structure of the team. “[The women’s team’s] executive and administrative staff will match that of the men's team, to further professionalise the team and staff,” Gutierrez said.

The federation implemented another measure by removing the term “de fútbol femenino,” “women's football,” from the team's name. In an official statement, it announced that both the men's and women's national teams would now be referred to as “Selección Española de Fútbol,” or “Spain's national football team.” However long the journey may be, this is the first step towards equality in the sporting world and recognition that football is football, regardless of who plays it.


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