Luis Rubiales, the president of Spain’s football federation, is being pushed to resign following a disciplinary and allegations of misogyny after the country’s victory at the Women's World Cup final.
Rubiales, 46, has gained global criticism for forcefully kissing Spanish footballer Jenni Hermoso after the team’s victory over England.
The incident, which happened as the players were collecting their trophy and medals, caused a ripple of outrage amongst spectators, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez describing the act as “unacceptable”.
Spain’s Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, described it as a “form of sexual violence” while the football union Fifpro said it was “not appropriate or acceptable in any context”. The controversy thickened when another video surfaced of Rubiales grabbing his genitals in a victory celebration at the game.
Miguel Galán, who heads a Spanish national football coaching facility, highlighted that despite being a global event, the kiss, which Hermoso said she “didn’t like”, happened in her place of work. “We can’t overlook that this took place in a work environment. The federation is the employer and she’s the employee,” he said. “That reality – along with the element of surprise – means she couldn’t react the way she might have if the context had been different.”
Rubiales initially brushed off the act saying that those who thought it was inappropriate were “idiots and stupid people” but after much criticism, he created a video apologising for what he did. In the video, Rubiales explained: “We saw it as something natural, normal and not in bad faith, but there are people who have been hurt by this and I have to apologise. There’s no other way, is there?” Despite this, many spectators felt the video was insincere.
Fifa eventually issued a statement that disciplinary action would incur against Rubiales, forcing him to either resign or be banned. But in an unexpected response, Rubiales refused to resign, saying "a social assassination is taking place" and he is preparing to "fight until the end" to remain as Spain's football federation boss, as he claims the kiss with Hermoso was consensual.
Rubiales response incited a furore from the public. As a result, Fifa has said it is pushing for Rubiales to be banned from football for 15 years.
‘One of the greatest feats has been tainted’
The controversy that has ensued following the kiss has caused figures within women’s football to highlight the sexism that still exists in the sport, despite recent victories. This was illustrated in a statement from La Liga F, Spain’s women's football league, where they called for Rubiales to be sacked.
The statement read: “The Professional Women’s Football League has lodged a complaint with the president of the Superior Sports Council (CSD) after the very serious actions and behaviour of the president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, at the final of the Women’s World Cup, and is calling for his dismissal.
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“One of the greatest feats in the history of Spanish sport has been tainted by the embarrassing behaviour of the highest representative of Spanish football who, once again, and guided by his continuous and habitual desire for the spotlight, has revealed to not be up to the position he occupies,” the women’s league added.
“A boss grabbing his employee by the head and kissing her on the mouth simply cannot be tolerated. It’s not just about the kiss. Celebrating the triumph on the presidential balcony while holding his genitals next to the queen is unacceptable and disgusting.
“It’s an incident which has entered the history of world sport and, more seriously still, will forever be linked to our national women’s team.”
The controversy triggered other women in the football community to share their experiences with the Spanish Football Federation. Tamara Ramos, the General Director at Futbolistas ON players’ union, alleged that Rubiales made inappropriate comments to her when they worked together at the association, including a time when he asked her the colour of her underwear. These allegations were denied by the Spanish Football Federation.
In another case, US Football player Megan Rapinoe said the Spanish Football Federation was rife with a “deep level of misogyny and sexism”.
Sexual harassment in the workplace
This unfortunate case highlights that misogyny continues to be a part of every aspect of society even when progress is being made in platforming and empowering women in typically male-dominate industries.
Recent research from the TUC, which surveyed 1000 female professionals, found that two-thirds of women have endured bullying, sexual harassment or verbal abuse in the workplace, most of which have gone uninvestigated or unreported. This highlights the importance of HR and management to take allegations around sexual misconduct seriously and respond effectively.
In a previous interview, Katie Hodson, Partner and Head of Employment at SAS Daniels LLP, told HR Grapevine that it’s important for employers to have “robust policies in place” regarding sexual harassment.
“Staff need to be clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and aware of the consequences of breaching the policies. This could be supported by staff training,” she continued.
“Further, any and all complaints should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. This would include asking relevant questions and looking at the evidence with a clear and unbiased viewpoint.”