“Forget fathers of daughters, mothers of sons have entered the arena.”
This message was included in a tweet from early Tuesday morning , after the latest fever-dream twist in the Luis Rubiales and the Royal Spanish Football Federation’s (RFEF) fight against the 21st century current of change and accountability. The facts are simple — after the Spanish team won the Women’s World Cup, Luis Rubiales, Spanish football federation president, non-consensually kissed Spain’s star striker, Jenni Hermoso, on live television.
Rubiale’s actions were disgraceful and shocking. But his, and the federation’s, reaction to the outcry against it is worse.
Rubiales jumped straight on the defense, doubling down on his innocence and victimhood. He spoke in a radio interview with Spanish Radio Station MARCA, stating “the kiss with Jenni? Idiots are everywhere” and continuing “the idiocy should be ignored”.
The idiocy in question? The vocalisation from stars of the game, politicians, journalists, and the public alike, calling for Rubiales to be removed from his position and sanctioned.
Over three weeks after Rubiales sexually assaulted Jenni Hermoso, he astonishingly remains in his job within the RFEF. He remains despite the Spanish government’s calls for his resignation. Despite a provisional 90 day suspension by FIFA “from all football-related activities at national and international level”. Despite his right hand man, Jorge Vilda, (now former) head coach of the women’s national team being sacked by the federation. Despite Hermoso filing a criminal complaint against him for sexual assault. Despite all 23 players from the World Cup winning squad stating they will not play for the national team, striking, until Rubiales resigns. Despite a powerful, damning statement posted by almost every top female player worldwide under #SeAcabó (it’s over) that demands change and reminds the world that “Football, without [female players], is nothing”. So, Rubiales still has his job within the Spanish federation and the Spanish women’s national team do not.
This is a story of the backing of powerful men, by powerful men, to ensure they remain powerful men— rolls of the tongue like the age-old phenomenon that it is.
The Spanish Men’s national team also came out with a half-heartened and heavily criticised statement in support of the women’s protest. The statement, which did not mention Hermoso by name, came over two weeks after the August 20th final. The statement which expressed the team’s “regret and solidarity with the players whose success has been tarnished” also stated the team “would like to focus on sporting matters from now on, considering the importance of the challenges ahead”. The irony of the statement is blatantly obvious. How easy would the life of a female footballer be if they could choose to just “focus on sporting matters”?
The men’s national team’s display of intended goodwill, but ultimate ignorance, is telling. Often for change to be made, men in positions of power need to support women-led movements. It would be a powerful and effective statement if both teams united against their federation. Instead, the men have opted to utilise their privilege to wilfully ignore the injustice and undeserved treatment of the women’s team. It’s disappointing, to say the least, and a further reflection of the issues that lie deep within the foundations of Spanish football.
Spain’s win is a historic moment for women’s football in Spain, but the players are not celebrating. Instead, their victory is being overshadowed by a brutish, egomaniac of a man and a deeply patriarchal and toxic federation. This is supposed to be the best moment of these players’ lives, but it won’t be until the federation is held accountable, the leadership within it is changed, and Rubiales is removed. Head coach Vilda has been sacked but this is just the first step in a longlist of needed changes. Rubiales kissed a player, without consent, in front of an audience of millions. If he refuses to take accountability for this and the federation enables his behaviour and reaction, one can only wonder how bad it is behind closed doors. Spain’s moment of “me too” in the footballing world must not lose momentum. This needs to be a catalyst for change across the footballing world — women players should not have to fight these fights anymore.
As Spain’s Alexia Putellas said, this “generation has had to be more than just players”, but “the legacy [they] want to leave is that [future generations] no longer have to worry about these things”. Female players should feel safe, supported, and comfortable with and by their federations, coaches, and staff. Female players’ job is not to be in meetings to get better infrastructures, better facilities, or better coaches. Their job is to play football. This fight is being fought so hopefully one day soon women too will have the luxury to “focus on sporting matters from now on”. The next step toward this? Firing Luis Rubiales.