Spain won the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in one of the most convincing runs in the history of the tournament. A week on, however, the news cycle is not celebrating the prowess of the players. Instead, it is dominated by the boorishness of Luis Rubiales, the president of Spain’s football federation, who is under fire for his gross displays of machismo throughout celebrations in the stadium — and who still refuses to resign his post.
On the award platform, knowing that he was on camera in a highly televised event, Rubiales kissed player Jennifer Hermoso on the lips, an act she says was not consensual despite his claims to the contrary. In the stadium, in the moment of victory, he also grabbed his crotch — an inexplicable gesture until you realize that he’s been under constant criticism for the way he treats the women’s program and sees Spain’s victory not as the athletes’ accomplishment, but as his vindication. While walking on the field after the game, he threw another player, Athenea del Castillo, over his shoulder as though she were a sack of potatoes. It was, he has explained, “a time of maximum effusiveness.”
Rubiales tried and failed to get Hermoso and the team’s captain, Ivana Andrès, to stand beside him on camera as he issued his “I’m sorry you feel bad” apology and minimized his behavior toward Hermoso and her teammates as “natural” and “normal.” “In ceremonies like this … one should be more careful,” he said, which leaves one wondering if he thinks such behavior is still acceptable so long as it’s off-camera.
At the news conference convened Friday to address the growing scandal, Rubiales blamed Hermoso for the kiss, and “false feminists” for his suffering. He declared “I’m not going to resign! I’m not going to resign!” as the (mostly male) audience erupted into applause.
Hours later, the Spanish team announced they will not play any matches until Rubiales resigns. The Spanish government is seeking to have him suspended.
This controversy is not just about a kiss: Rubiales is dogged by corruption scandals, complaints about the federation’s treatment of the national team and anger at the way he and his federation undermine women’s leagues in Spain. When players wrote letters to the federation earlier this year, asking for a more professional approach to the women’s game, he and the team’s coach, Jorge Vilda, responded to them as if they were spoiled brats and crazy ex-girlfriends.
It is easier to talk about a kiss than it is to talk about the complex institutional problems that govern the labor of the women who won the tournament. This kind of body language is an assertion of the right to trespass into a subordinate’s personal space. Rubiales’ kiss sits on a continuum with discrimination, harassment and, yes, sexual abuse. It is a form of grooming that sexualizes subordinates. It associates power and authority with access to the petty pleasures of these daily forms of sexual subordination.
For the people subjected to this, these gestures are incursions on the ability to do the work, but also to enjoy it. Rubiales and his lackeys are stealing from fans and players the ability to celebrate this victory.
It’s never just one man. It’s the men at the podium and it’s the men around them who gave them their jobs. It’s the men who have starved women’s football since they bothered to notice that women play it. It’s the men who have moved into the women’s game not to improve it, but to exploit it. It’s the men who step into leadership roles with little experience and capitalize on women’s work and talent. We are all sick and tired of it.
There is only one way to honor these players: Sweep Rubiales and men like him out of the game for good.
Jennifer Doyle is a professor of English at UC Riverside and the author of “Campus Sex, Campus Security.”