The head of Spain's soccer federation cast a shadow over the nation's triumphant Women's World Cup victory. He marred the celebratory moment by planting a kiss on a player's lips during the medal ceremony. This action drew widespread criticism for its inappropriateness, highlighting the persistent challenge of gender bias in the sports realm.
Following Spain's hard-fought 1-0 win against England, both the Spanish government and the global players' union swiftly condemned the conduct exhibited by Luis Rubiales on this grand stage. The incident, which unfolded in the aftermath of the match, ignited a chorus of disapproval, underscoring the sport's ongoing efforts to transcend its history of gender inequality.
The organization led by Rubiales attempted to downplay the incident initially. An official statement, seemingly attributed to the player who received the ill-fated kiss, aimed to minimize the impact. However, this approach fell short as a video later surfaced featuring Rubiales himself, apologizing for his behavior. In this act of contrition, he acknowledged his lapse in judgment amidst the fervor of the momentous occasion.
What Else Happened After Spain's Victory?
Right after Spain's triumph, Rubiales made a rather inappropriate victory gesture, grabbing his crotch – seemingly unaware of 16-year-old Princess Infanta Sofía, who was standing nearby. Later, during the medal and trophy ceremony on the field, he proceeded to kiss player Jenni Hermoso on the lips. This action inadvertently diverted attention from the jubilation and cast a shadow over the most significant day for women's soccer in the country.
The kiss's impact was particularly striking due to the sport's long-standing history of allegations concerning sexual misconduct by male soccer presidents and coaches directed at female players on national teams. Among the 32 World Cup teams, Haiti and Zambia had to confront this very issue during the qualification process for the tournament, which is co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Spain's interim minister for sports and culture, Miquel Iceta, emphasized that "it is unacceptable to kiss a player on the lips as a form of congratulation." Meanwhile, the global players' union characterized the kiss as "deeply lamentable."
On the preceding Sunday, Spain's equality minister, Irene Montero, reacted even more strongly, stating, "It constitutes a form of sexual violence that women endure daily, a reality that has been overlooked until now, and one that we must not normalize."
Montero expressed these sentiments on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. The Spanish soccer federation responded late Sunday with a statement attributed to Hermoso, aiming to resolve the controversy. Hermoso asserted, "It was a completely spontaneous and mutual gesture borne out of the immense joy of winning a World Cup." In the federation's release, she continued, "The president and I share a strong rapport, his conduct toward all of us has been exemplary, and the kiss was a genuine demonstration of affection and appreciation."
However, on Monday, the federation took a new course by releasing a video statement featuring Rubiales extending an apology and acknowledging his misstep, which he attributed to a moment of intense enthusiasm. "In a role as significant as that of the federation's president, one must exercise greater caution," Rubiales admitted in the video.
At 45 years old, Rubiales had previously served as the head of the world players' union's Spanish branch for eight years before assuming the leadership of the national soccer federation in 2018. In the past year, the Spanish team faced internal turmoil due to certain players' grievances regarding the team culture under coach Jorge Vilda.
Following the match's conclusion, as Hermoso walked down the line of soccer dignitaries to receive her medal, Rubiales placed his hands on her head and delivered a kiss on her lips.
He also embraced various other players and draped his arm around Queen Letizia of Spain.
In a video posted on Instagram within the dressing room after the incident, the players erupted in cheers and laughter as they watched a replay of the kiss on a mobile phone.
Hermoso's reaction was quite telling – she could be observed laughing and exclaiming, "But I didn't like it!" When fellow players inquired about her response, she emphatically shouted, "Look at me, look at me," implying her limited agency in the situation.
FIFPRO, the Netherlands-based players' union, didn't mince words when it came to its assessment of Rubiales' behavior.
"It's truly regrettable that a moment as significant as this for the players of the Spanish national team, taking place before a global television audience, has been tainted by the improper actions of an individual occupying a role of immense responsibility," the union's statement expressed.
"The unsolicited and inappropriate physical gestures directed at players have no place or justification whatsoever. This is especially the case when players find themselves in a position of vulnerability due to physical advances or gestures originating from someone wielding power over them."
Rubiales also holds the position of a UEFA vice president and held the esteemed role of being the highest-ranking elected representative of the European soccer body at the championship final in Australia.
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