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Spanish Football Federation President Caught in Harassment Controversy

On the previous Sunday, the Spanish women`s football team secured victory over England in a thrilling one-nil match to claim their first-ever FIFA World Cup title. However, this remarkable achievement was overshadowed by another incident of harassment against women, this time in sports.

This line of harassment, jarring as it is, is not a novel occurrence for women in sports. With instances like the US Gymnastics team, Chinese tennis player Peng Shui, and the Afghan football team, it is indisputable that sexual harassment against women has become a pervasive issue in the global sports arena.


The Controversy

Following the Spanish victory, Luis Rubiales, the President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RSFF), planted an unsolicited kiss on the lips of footballer Jenni Hermosa during the award ceremony. Shortly thereafter, in an Instagram live-stream. Hermosa expressed her discontent with the incident, stating that she “didn`t like it.”

Yet, a statement was later released on her behalf, defending him and calling it a mutual gesture of affection. Rubiales, in comments made to the Spanish broadcaster COPE, referred to his critics as “idiots and stupid people,” dismissing the kiss as a mere celebration between two friends.

However, the public, the government, and the football world`s discontent with the incident continued to escalate.


Public Outcry and Social Media Backlash

Social media platforms, such as X (formerly known as Twitter), witnessed widespread criticism of his misconduct in Spain using the hashtag “dimision ya,” which translates to “resign now” in English.

Furthermore, additional video footage of Rubiale, seated alongside FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Queen Letizia of Spain, grabbing his groin in celebration after the final whistle, has exacerbated the criticism.

The Spanish Minister of Equality commented that women endure this kind of violence on a daily basis and that we must not normalise such behaviour. The Spanish acting Prime Minster has also commented on the matter, stating that an apology was insufficient, telling reporters that: “What we saw was an unacceptable gesture,” demanding that Rubiales issue an apology and explanation for his actions.


Apology and Refusal to Resign 

Despite the initial dismissal of the incident and facing mounting pressure to resign, the REFF President appeared to change his stance on Monday in a video statement, where he acknowledged that he was “completely wrong.” He further added, “It was without bad intention, in a moment of great excitement. At that time, we saw it as natural, but outside, a controversy has erupted. I must apologise, learn from this, and understand that as the president, you need to be more careful.”

Amid mounting pressure to step down, Rubiales, during an emergency meeting with the RFEF, maintained his stance of innocence and refused to resign on Friday. Concurrently, the RFEF issued a statement announcing their intention to take legal action against Hermosa`s assertions. 

In response, the Spanish footballer Hermosa released an extensive statement on social media, asserting that “at no time…was his kiss ever consensual.”


FIFA’s Decision

On Thursday, FIFA`s disciplinary committee initiated disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales, citing a breach of Article 13, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Disciplinary Code. He has subsequently been suspended by the global governing body of football from all football-related activities for a minimum of three months, pending a conclusive decision stemming from the proceedings.  


Action against Rubiales 

The Spanish Government has initiated legal proceedings against Rubiales in the tribunals, as the Sports Council cannot suspend him unless he is found to have violated the professional sports code. Spanish Sports Council Secretary Victor Francos expressed the desire for this to become a MeToo moment for Spanish Football. “The government is commencing the process today to require Mr. Rubiales to provide explanations before the Sports Court. If the Sports Court agrees, I can announce that we will suspend Mr. Rubiales from his duties.” he added.

Additionally, the coaching staff of the winning team have resigned amidst the controversy. The only individual who remains in their position is Manager Jorge Vilda, who received Rubiales`s support last year when players called for Vilda`s resignation due to concerns about mental health. Consequently, only three out of the 15 players were permitted to participate in the World Cup. While Vilda may have survived a boycott, the fact that over 80 players have refused to play until Rubiales steps down indicates that Luis is facing significant trouble. 


Broader Context

While this specific incident has gained traction, it must be noted that it is not the first of its kind. Sports, particularly for women, serve as a means to empower women worldwide and bridge gender inequalities. The journey towards recognition and respect for women in sports has been quite extensive. However, incidents like this highlight that there is still a considerable distance to travel before substantial progress can be achieved. 

One of the foremost examples of harassment against women in sports is that of the US gymnastics team in 2016 when Rachael Denhollander alleged that she had endured sexual harassment at the hands of the USA Gymnastics national team doctor, Larry Nassar. Earlier this year, the BBC reported that more than 330 women have since come forward with complaints. Currently, Nassar is serving a sentence of 175 years.



In late 2021, Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai made a now-removed post in which she accused the former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Ghaoli of sexual assault. She stated that she had a romantic relationship with the official and was subsequently coerced into having relations with him. While she acknowledged her inability to substantiate these claims with evidence, the former Chinese Vice Premier did not comment on the allegations, and Peng has not been heard from or seen since making the accusations.

Shifting to the context of women`s football, in 2018, allegations of physical and sexual abuse emerged involving officials in the Afghan Football Federation, including President Keramuddin Karim. Following investigations by FIFA, Karim was banned from football. However, he managed to evade further punitive measures.

But the issue doesn`t end there. Haiti`s women`s soccer program faced a grave abuse scandal involving former federation president Yves Jean-Bart. Bart was accused of sexually assaulting underage players and overseeing a national training centre that allegedly became a hub for abuse by other officials as well. In 2020, FIFA determined that he had sexually harassed and abused multiple female players, banning him for life. Nevertheless, a panel of arbitrators later overturned this decision.


So are we doing enough to protect women in sports?

As reported by The Washington Post, FIFA`s pledge to establish an independent body to oversee harassment cases has yet to come to fruition. However, this is not to suggest that they are not making attempts. With initiatives like FIFA Guardians Program and the swift action taken against Rubiales, it is apparent that FIFA is putting in the effort. But is this effort sufficient? It has been more than 30 years since the commencement of the Women`s World Cup, and yet instances of harassment, as faced by Hermosa persist, tarnishing the achievements of women in sports.

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