Regardless of what team you hoped you would win the World Cup, the 2023 women’s football competition was clear evidence (as if you had any doubt!) that it didn’t matter what gender played, all hands could kick a ball with skill, elegance and a fair bit of ferocity.
The passion on the field in the gold medal final was amazing. Both England and Spain played a beautiful game with all the players displaying some fabulous footwork, amazing saves and wicked strategy.
You would think that we could celebrate in high style, but no. Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales just had to go all in and plant a full mouth kiss on Spanish medalist Jenni Hermoso. In fact, just to make sure his aim was true, Rubiales grabbed the shocked player in a headlock.
While Europeans are accustomed to the double and triple cheek kiss, this was not a social act. On September 6, Hermoso filed a legal complaint, which could result in criminal charges against Rubialies. Her complaint followed the opening of an investigation by Spain’s top criminal court.
It’s been interesting to watch the drama unfold since August 17, the day of the game.
Not long after the medal presentation, Hermoso said she was uncomfortable and further, she did not consent to the intimate embrace. Rubiales tried to apologize and then walked the statement back the next day, August 18. That same day, the Spanish soccer federation tried to downplay the event, describing the kiss as consensual and providing photos it said showed Hermoso was not affected by the kiss.
What we didn’t find out until later was that the federation was pressuring Hermoso to make a joint statement dismissing the depiction of the kiss as an assault. The organization even went so far as to target family members and other team players. In response, the women’s team stood steadfast behind Hermoso and said they would not play until Spain’s soccer leadership addressed the issue.
It took more than a week for the world governing body to take action by finally suspending Rubiales from his role as president as a result of the Spanish federation’s failure to act. The following week saw Rubiales accusing his detractors of abuse and even his own mother locked herself in a church on his behalf to protest the suspension. This article provides a really good summary of the key events leading to the suspension.
The commentary in the week that followed the suspension has been positive. The Washington Post offered insight with a damning headline: “Strong women gave us a compelling World Cup. Weak men obscured it.” The Spanish men’s team came out swinging as well calling Rubiales’ behaviour unacceptable. The team’s statement read: “It’s a historic milestone filled with significance that will mark a before and after in Spanish women’s football, inspiring countless women with an invaluable triumph. Therefore, we want to express our regret and solidarity with the players whose success has been tarnished.”
But there’s more. On Tuesday September 5, the coach of the gold medal-winning team was given the boot partly because of his continuing support of Rubiales but also due to long standing issues raised by the players in the last three years.
The national and global protests are riding a wave of anger on the continued downplaying of sexism in this sport as well as others. Even Spain’s labour minister Yolanda Diaz said “male chauvinism was ‘systemic’ in the country’s sports institutions and had been shown in its worst form in the incident involving Rubiales.”
The fact is the women, like the men who play soccer, are working. We don’t accept such behaviour in any other workplace so why should the soccer field be any different? La Liga F is the highest level of football competition for women in Spain. Their statement was damning: “One of the greatest feats in the history of Spanish sport has been tainted by the embarrassing behaviour of the highest representative of Spanish football … A boss grabbing his employee by the head and kissing her on the mouth simply cannot be tolerated. It’s not just about the kiss. Celebrating the triumph on the presidential balcony while holding his genitals next to the queen is unacceptable and disgusting.”
We know the stakes are high when it comes to salaries, prize purses, sponsorships, team acquisitions. Given the monumental success of this World Cup and the advancement in skill and excellence by all teams, not just the finalists, this is an issue that will continue to face public scrutiny.