Spain’s World cup captain - Jenni Hermoso. credit: Anders Henrikson, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Spanish Football President’s Behaviour highlights the Seriousness of Sexism in Women’s Football

By Ambarish Awale

Following a non-consensual kiss between the Spanish football president and the women’s team captain, the former was suspended from his position. However, his actions merely demonstrate the high degree of sexism, rife in women’s football.

The date was 20 August 2023. It was supposed to be a momentous occasion for the Spanish women’s team. They had just reached the pinnacle of footballing achievement with their victory over England in the FIFA World Cup final. However, an incident that nobody could have foreseen will forever overshadow this historic victory.

The 2023 FIFA World Cup was extremely memorable, even before the controversy surrounding the final that soured the taste in fans’ mouths. The iconic event saw a record attendance for a women’s football tournament, a heartwarming development for followers, athletes and staff alike. The viewership of the World Cup almost doubled compared to the previous edition in France. Even the average attendance jumped from about 21,756 in 2019 to an estimated 28,000 this year.

The grand finale saw Spain and England battling for the top title, with both teams making their World Cup final debuts. Making it a true clash of titans was the fact that England were the reigning Euro Champions, while Spain were flying high following World Titles on the Under-17 and Under-20 levels. The Stadium Australia in Sydney, packed with 75,784 screaming fans, acted as the perfect host on an intense Sunday evening. After a competitive first half, Spain finally scored through captain Olga Carmona, who became the hero for La Roja. The scoreboard read 1-0 at the final whistle, sending thousands of Spanish fans watching across the globe into raptures. 

The “incident” took place during the post-game celebrations. Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), kissed midfielder Jenni Hermoso without her consent. Rubiales was also spotted grabbing his crotch while celebrating the win earlier while being close to Spain’s Queen Letizia and 16-year-old Princess Sofia.

Rubiales hasn’t been a stranger to controversies, attracting criticism multiple times throughout his career for his actions. Recently, Juan Rubiales, the uncle of the suspended RFEF president, accused him of being “obsessed with power, luxury, money, and even women.” Furthermore, he also claimed that the hierarchy at RFEF used to take trips to the Granada coast and organise orgies using the company card. Rubiales has further been a centre of misogyny criticism after this year’s women’s Supercup, where the winning Barcelona side had to pick up their winner’s medals from a plastic table without anybody present to award them.

Misogyny towards women’s football remains a massive problem, even with the growth in the sport’s prominence and popularity. Multiple studies and reports have shown how common sexism and misogyny are, not just on social media but also in the attitudes of people in real life. This misogyny has crept into the mainstream media and is reflected in the difference in the coverage of men’s and women’s teams.

To give an example, after the England men’s team won the semi-finals of the Euros in 2021, the Daily Mail front page featured pictures of the players, fans, and Prince William celebrating with the headline “One game from glory.” When the women’s team achieved the women’s equivalent, the front page featured pictures of Alessia Russo, who scored the match-winning goal, in a bikini and dressed up on a night out.

According to the anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out, the reports of misogyny and sexism increased by 400% following England Women’s Euro win in 2022. A Durham University study showed that more than two-thirds of male football fans had an unsavoury attitude towards women’s sports. A survey of 119 players, officials, and fans conducted by the Scottish newspaper Press and Journal showed that over 70% of respondents had experienced sexism of some kind. In fact, in 67% of the total cases, no action had been taken against it.

Following the incident, Rubiales issued a statement in which he spoke on behalf of Hermoso, once again without her approval, alongside a halfhearted apology where he said that there were no bad intentions on either side. As days went by and scathing criticism came Rubiales’ way, he turned defensive and claimed that he had been the victim of a social assassination. This was after a group of 81 professionals, including the entire World Cup-winning squad, stated that they would not play for their national side till Rubiales was on his post.

Rubiales has been banned by FIFA since, with Pedro Rocha taking over as interim president of the RFEF. Rubiales resigned publicly during an interview with the British journalist Piers Morgan. On 15 September, a judge from the Spanish High Court imposed a restraining order on Rubiales, forcing him to not communicate with her in any way, shape, or form. It further ordered Rubiales to stay at least 200 metres apart from Hermoso. The Spanish women’s team has only recently ended their long-standing boycott and questions must be asked of the sport and its associates, which are a long way from achieving complete equality and a safe environment for women.


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