On Sunday 20 August 2023, Spain beat England 1-0 in the Women’s World Cup final. It was an emotional moment for both teams, one that, in many ways, showcased how far women have come in their mission to demand equality and representation within the sporting industry. However, as is almost unbearably always the case, a man had to go and ruin it.
Following the Spanish team’s victory, Luis Rubiales, the President of the Spanish Football Federation, found himself engulfed in controversy for kissing the country’s national team’s forward, Jenni Hermoso’s lips. Yep, you read that right.
Understandably, Rubiales’ choice to forcibly invade Hermoso’s personal space has ignited a firestorm of opinions across social media, in turn bringing to the forefront the intricacies of personal boundaries, emotions, and the ever-present shadows of a male-gazed society.
The image, captured for all to see during the official post-match ceremony, tells a tale of a power dynamic that has no place in modern sports or society at large. As the world watched, this kiss represented a disheartening reminder that even at the pinnacle of achievement, women are subject to having their autonomy undermined.
Hermoso, in her initial live stream response, was remarkably clear: “I didn’t like it.” Her words, raw and unfiltered, conveyed a sentiment that should not be trivialised. Yet, even as she spoke her truth, the backlash she faced for her honesty is telling of the disturbingly normalised culture surrounding such incidents. But Hermoso’s subsequent comments, despite the effort to soften the blow, still indicate a deep discomfort that cannot be ignored.
In a separate statement publicised by the Spanish news agency EFE and initially shared by the Spanish Football Federation, the player noted: “It was a mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous, prompted by the massive joy of winning a World Cup. The President and I have a great relationship, his behaviour with all of us has always been ten out of ten and this was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.”
Rubiales, in response to the burgeoning backlash, firmly dismissed any claims of impropriety. He characterised the kiss as a shared celebratory moment between friends, brushing aside critics by labelling them as “idiots and stupid people.” In an interview with the broadcaster COPE, he invited people to overlook dissenting opinions and instead bask in the positivity of the event.
However, this was not a spontaneous exchange between equals; it was an act that showcased an utter disregard for the boundaries that should exist between athletes and officials. By dismissing those who found fault with his actions, Rubiales is only solidifying his position as an individual unable or unwilling to comprehend the severity of his misstep.
21 August UPDATE: Rubiales has since apologised, saying: “I was completely wrong, I have to admit it. It was without bad intentions at a time with a lot of excitement. In the moment, we saw it as natural, but outside a commotion has formed. I have to apologise, learn from this, and understand that when you are president you have to be more careful.”
The reactions from figures such as the Spanish Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, and sports coverage leader Nadia Tronchoni encapsulate the justified outrage felt by many. In a tweet following the match, Montero astutely pointed out that such actions perpetuate a form of “sexual violence that we women suffer on a daily basis. Tronchoni rightfully described it as an “intrusion” and an “aggression.”
As reported by The Guardian, Spanish broadcaster Cadena SER brought to light a potential double standard. Presenter José Luis Sastre noted that Rubiales’ displays of celebration with male players had never included such personal gestures without prior consent. This observation underscored the significance of consent and equality in interactions.
In an era where sports should stand as a symbol of unity, empowerment, and progress, the incident involving Rubiales and Hermoso casts a long shadow of disappointment. It’s a glaring problem wherein those in positions of authority need to be held accountable for their actions, regardless of their intent.
Amid ongoing discussions, the Spanish team’s triumph also held a bittersweet note. Emerging alongside the jubilation was the heart-wrenching news that Olga Carmona, the captain and goalscorer, had tragically lost her father immediately after the game.
After years of tireless advocacy and determination to elevate the Women’s World Cup to a platform akin to its male counterpart, the progress made has been met with a jarring reminder of the work still left to be done. The fact that female athletes have to fight tooth and nail to be taken seriously on the global stage, only to have their accomplishments marred by a President’s unsettling kiss, showcases how far society still has to go in dismantling the deeply ingrained sexism and objectification that continue to persist.