Spain Denounces Unseemly World Cup Act: A Moment to Grapple with Endemic Sexism in Soccer?

by Sophia Chen
Gender Equality

When Patricia Otero witnessed the president of Spain’s Football Federation mar the most significant win in the annals of Spanish women’s sports by forcibly kissing a female athlete during the Women’s World Cup award ceremony, her disappointment was intense, yet hardly unexpected.

For Otero, an amateur soccer player, the unsolicited kiss that Luis Rubiales planted on Spain’s forward Jenni Hermoso represented the most overt and notorious instance of the kind of treatment she and her teammates have regularly encountered from their days as young female athletes.

“In our experience, this has been the norm,” the 30-year-old Otero revealed in an interview with The Big Big News, speaking from Malaga where she plays soccer during her free time from her high school teaching job. Rubiales’ subsequent justification of the kiss, claiming it was akin to one he would give his own daughters, struck a disquieting chord.

“I recall a coach who touched us inappropriately, all under the guise of affection, asserting, ‘You are like daughters to me.’ This happened when we were too young to fully comprehend the implications,” she said.

Large-scale protests erupted in Madrid, calling for the resignation of the beleaguered federation president. Criticized for kissing a female player non-consensually during the Women’s World Cup trophy presentation, Rubiales has become a contentious figure. (Date: August 25/28)

Despite persistent disparities within the realm of Spanish women’s soccer—Otero recounted how her team had to fundraise and maintain their own locker rooms, while male counterparts faced no such demands—the public censure over Rubiales’ kiss has been universal.

Hermoso has declared the kiss was not consensual. Despite Rubiales’ attempts to counter these allegations, public sentiment largely supports the 33-year-old player. The only remaining public backing for Rubiales seems to come from his mother, who has initiated a hunger strike in a church to protest against her son’s downfall.

As the actions of Spain’s most powerful soccer official eclipse the achievements of the new world champions, Spain is beginning to use this crisis as an impetus for confronting systemic sexism in the sport, even as the nation makes progress in gender equality in other sectors.

Rubiales’ insistence of his innocence has not swayed key stakeholders—Spain’s government, players’ unions, soccer clubs, and most significantly, Hermoso and her teammates—who interpret his actions as an intolerable abuse of authority tinged with sexism. FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, has imposed a 90-day suspension on Rubiales, and efforts are underway by the Spanish government to have him declared unfit for office.

Public disdain for Rubiales has transcended institutional boundaries. Fans at recent men’s La Liga matches have chanted for Rubiales’ departure, and mass demonstrations have taken place in Madrid, advocating for Hermoso.

In a pivotal moment last Friday, rather than resigning, Rubiales launched into a tirade against what he described as a campaign led by “false feminists” aimed at discrediting him.

Rubiales finds himself increasingly out of sync with Spain’s evolving social norms, especially considering the rise of women’s rights activism, catalyzed in 2018 by a highly publicized gang rape case, often cited as Spain’s “Me Too” moment.

Since then, Spain has enacted progressive legislation on abortion rights, workplace equality, and defining sexual consent, thereby becoming one of the most progressive countries in Europe on these fronts.

In interviews conducted by AP, a consensus emerged that a decade ago, Rubiales’ actions would likely have been largely overlooked.

Marisa Soleto, president of the Women’s Foundation, notes a transformative shift in Spain’s cultural landscape. “This episode shows that Spanish society now comprehends that non-consensual actions need not involve physical violence to be deemed unacceptable,” she said, referring to the kiss that has triggered nationwide outrage.

The rallying cry against Rubiales has been encapsulated in the slogan “Se Acabo,” meaning “this is over,” initiated by Hermoso’s teammate and star player Alexia Putellas. The phrase has gained traction, even appearing on the T-shirts of Sevilla’s male players.

While Rubiales has managed to alienate a broad political spectrum, his remaining supporters, once steadfast, have dwindled since FIFA’s suspension. Regional federation heads now demand his resignation, and prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into the incident as a potential sexual offense. Spain’s national women’s soccer team has also stated it will not play as long as Rubiales remains in his position.

Beatriz Álvarez, president of Spain’s professional women’s league, stresses that the issue transcends merely gender dynamics. “The ‘innocuous kiss’ represents an abuse of power—a superior imposing himself on a subordinate,” she said.

Jenni Hermoso referred to the non-consensual kiss and Rubiales’ subsequent denial as “the final straw,” emphasizing that such conduct has been a longstanding part of their professional lives.

Efforts for change last year were significant but unsuccessful. Fifteen players threatened to quit playing for coach Vilda unless conditions improved, including an end to condescending treatment. The federation backed Vilda, with only three players returning to the World Cup squad.

Optimism persists that the uproar surrounding this episode may serve as a catalyst for dismantling ingrained inequities within soccer, particularly regarding wage disparities. Complaints over various forms of inequality have surged five-fold over the past week, according to Pilar Calvo of Spain’s Association of Women in Professional Sports.

As the football federation faces public scrutiny, the question looms: Can Rubiales be permanently ousted, and can his successor facilitate meaningful change?

Toña Is, a former player and coach who was dismissed from her position within the federation in 2020 due to her internal complaints about sexism, feels vindicated. “Time has validated our concerns about longstanding inappropriate conduct within the federation,” she said.

“There should be absolutely no room for such attitudes in sports or broader society, to ensure such episodes are never repeated.”

___ Reporting from Barcelona, Spain by Wilson. Contributions from New York by Jocelyn Noveck.

AP soccer: [Website Link]

AP Women’s World Cup coverage: [Website Link]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Gender Equality

What was the incident involving Luis Rubiales and the Spanish women’s soccer team?

During the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony, Luis Rubiales, the president of Spain’s Football Federation, forcibly kissed Spain forward Jenni Hermoso, sparking widespread condemnation for its non-consensual nature.

How did the public react to the incident?

The public reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Hundreds of demonstrators protested in Madrid, demanding Rubiales’ resignation. Fans at men’s La Liga matches also called for his departure, while FIFA suspended him for 90 days and Spain’s government moved to declare him unfit for office.

What does the incident signify in the context of gender equality?

The incident ignited a broader conversation about gender inequality within Spanish soccer. It shed light on the existing sexism in the sport and prompted discussions about the need for reform and greater equity for female athletes.

Has there been progress towards gender equality in Spanish soccer?

While women’s rights activism has been growing in Spain, this incident revealed the ongoing disparities in the soccer realm. Efforts have been made to improve conditions, but wage disparities and unequal treatment persist between male and female players.

How does this incident fit into broader societal changes?

The incident aligns with Spain’s evolving social norms and heightened awareness of women’s rights. Spain has seen advancements in gender equality legislation and societal attitudes, with increased recognition of non-consensual actions as unacceptable.

What impact might this incident have on the future of Spanish soccer?

The incident has sparked hopes for positive change. It could serve as a turning point, encouraging dismantling of entrenched gender inequalities and ushering in a new era of equitable treatment and opportunities for female soccer players.

Who were some of the key figures involved in the aftermath of the incident?

Luis Rubiales, the federation president, faced condemnation for his actions and subsequent response. Jenni Hermoso, the player involved, and Alexia Putellas, her teammate, played prominent roles in rallying against Rubiales. Various women’s rights advocates, soccer coaches, and players were also involved in the public discourse.

How does this incident compare to historical attitudes towards sexism?

The incident highlighted the shifting societal attitudes towards sexism. Interviews conducted with women in soccer and other sectors revealed that such behavior, which might have been ignored a decade ago, now faces widespread criticism and backlash.

What is the significance of the slogan “Se Acabo”?

The slogan “Se Acabo,” started by Alexia Putellas, signifies a collective stance against Rubiales and the culture of sexism. It encapsulates the demand for an end to such behavior and serves as a rallying cry for change.

What steps are being taken to address gender inequality in Spanish soccer?

The incident has led to increased calls for reform. Complaints about inequality have risen significantly, leading to discussions about equal pay, facilities, and opportunities for female athletes. Efforts are also being made to create a more inclusive soccer culture.

More about Gender Equality

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GameChanger August 30, 2023 - 5:34 pm

kudos 2 Hermoso n Putellas 4 startin’ da “Se Acabo” thing. time 2 shut down dat nonsense!

SportsGeek23 August 30, 2023 - 10:26 pm

so rubiales gets suspended, but he talks ’bout witch hunt. lol wat? gud job FIFA, abt time smthng hppened.

EqualityAdvocate August 31, 2023 - 12:23 am

much-needed spotlight on gender ineq in soccer. proud of d women speakin’ out n demandin’ change.

SoccerFan91 August 31, 2023 - 4:41 pm

whoa, dis is sum crazy stuff happnin’ in da soccer world, no kiddin’. gud 2 c peeps standin’ up 4 change tho!

FutbolJunkie August 31, 2023 - 5:11 pm

rubiales grabbin’ his crotch in front of royalty? man’s lost it! Spain ain’t havin’ it no more.


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