The controversy over the unsolicited kiss by Spain’s football federation president Luis Rubiales to star player Jenni Hermoso has sparked a wave of outrage and protests in the country, but also revealed the deep-rooted problems and power structures within the sport’s governing body.
Rubiales, who has been in charge of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) since 2018, has refused to resign despite the widespread condemnation of his act, which occurred during the medal ceremony after Spain had won the Women’s World Cup for the first time in history last Sunday.
Hermoso, who scored the winning goal against England in the final, said on Friday that she felt “vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part” . She also accused the RFEF of putting pressure on her to remain silent and not file a complaint.
The RFEF, however, defended Rubiales and threatened to take legal action against Hermoso and the Association of Professional Soccer Players (FUTPRO), which represents her and other players. The RFEF claimed that the kiss was “mutual” and that Rubiales was a victim of “social assassination” and “false feminism”.
The RFEF also published photos that allegedly showed Hermoso smiling and hugging Rubiales after the kiss, implying that she was not offended or coerced. However, many observers pointed out that Hermoso’s reaction could have been due to shock, fear or embarrassment, and that it did not invalidate her lack of consent.
The kiss scandal has triggered a massive backlash from various sectors of society, including politicians, journalists, activists and celebrities, who have demanded Rubiales’ resignation and called for an end to sexism and harassment in sports.
The Spanish government has also expressed its support for Hermoso and condemned Rubiales’ behavior as “macho actions” that “have no place in our society”. The Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, said that she would contact Hermoso to offer her legal and psychological assistance.
Moreover, dozens of players from both the men’s and women’s national teams have announced that they would boycott any matches for Spain until Rubiales steps down. Among them are Real Betis forward Borja Iglesias, who said he would not play for his country again “until things change”.
However, despite the mounting pressure and criticism, Rubiales seems determined to cling to his position as the most powerful man in Spanish football. The reason behind his resilience lies in the complex and opaque internal structure of the RFEF, which has been described by some as a “feudal dictatorship”.
According to Spanish sports journalist Diego Torres, who wrote a book about the RFEF titled “The Football Mafia”, Rubiales has managed to secure the loyalty and support of most of the 140 members of the federation’s assembly, which is composed of representatives from different groups within Spanish football, such as clubs, regional federations, referees, coaches and players.
Torres said that Rubiales has used his influence and resources to distribute favors and benefits among these groups, such as grants, subsidies, contracts, trips or tickets. He also said that Rubiales has created a climate of fear and intimidation within the RFEF, where dissenters are punished or marginalized.
Torres added that Rubiales has also cultivated a close relationship with FIFA, the global governing body of football, which has opened a disciplinary case against him over the kiss incident. Torres said that FIFA president Gianni Infantino considers Rubiales as an ally in Europe and has praised his management of the RFEF.
Therefore, Torres concluded that it would be very difficult to unseat Rubiales through democratic means within the RFEF. He said that only a judicial intervention or a massive social mobilization could force him to resign or call for new elections.
The kiss scandal has exposed not only the personal misconduct of Rubiales, but also the systemic corruption and dysfunction of the RFEF. It has also galvanized a movement for change and justice within Spanish football, especially among women players who have suffered discrimination and neglect for decades.
As Hermoso wrote in her statement: “This is not only about me. This is about all women who have been victims of harassment or abuse in any field. This is about all women who love football and want to be respected as professionals. This is about all women who want to live in a fairer society.”