I have been watching with astonishment the dogged efforts by Luis Rubiales, the president of Spain’s football federation (RFEF), to stay on in his position despite calls from all sides for him to leave. This has been a major news story for several days.
It all began after the Spanish women’s team won the World Cup for this first time in its history. In the jubilation that followed, as the players went in a line after the final game to be congratulated by Rubiales and others, he grabbed forward Jenni Hermoso’s head and kissed her full on the lips. In the uproar that followed, he claimed that the kiss had been consensual, which Hermoso denied.
To add insult to injury, Rubiales had later ordered the coaching staff to attend a speech given by him at an extraordinary meeting of the RFEF where he defended his actions and blasted “false feminism” and a “social assassination” of his character and vowed not to resign. That was not all the offensive things he did.
In his speech, Rubiales made it clear he was seeking to curry favour with the federation’s 140 members, just six of whom are women. He began with an apology for grabbing his crotch, describing it as an “unfortunate” gesture made in the “euphoria” of the moment. The gesture – made as the country’s 16-year-old princess was nearby – was supposedly directed at the team’s coach, Vilda, as a tribute. “I have to apologise to the royal family,” he said. “It wasn’t very edifying.”
Truly a classy guy.
But his days are surely numbered. There has been an increasing clamor for Rubiales to resign. Almost the entire coaching staff has resigned in protest.
Things are so bad that even the international controlling body for football FIFA, hardly a paragon of virtue, took action against him.
The joint resignation statement [of the coaches] came hours after Fifa said Rubiales would immediately be suspended “from all football-related activities at national and international level” for an “initial period of 90 days, pending the disciplinary proceedings” that were opened against him earlier this week.
The Fifa disciplinary judge, Jorge Palacio, said “in order to preserve, among other factors, the fundamental rights” of Hermoso, Rubiales was also ordered “to refrain, through himself or third parties, from contacting or attempting to contact” her and those close to her.
The statement also said the Spanish football federation, which earlier threatened to take legal against Hermoso, had been ordered to refrain from contacting her and those close to her.
Spain’s government has also got into the act.
Spain’s government — via its Higher Council for Sports — filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that Rubiales violated the country’s sports laws on two counts: for an alleged abuse of power and for allegedly committing acts that tarnished the dignity and decorum of a sporting event. If found guilty, Rubiales could be ruled unfit to hold office.
Spain’s Secretary of State for Sports Víctor Francos, who heads the sports council, said FIFA’s decision “reinforces and reaffirms that the path that the government of Spain announced yesterday was correct.”
The last straw should be the fact that the entire women’s team that won the World Cup has said that they will not play for the national team as long as Rubiales remains in office. All 23 members of the World Cup squad as well as 56 other female players signed on the the letter.
The England team that lost the final to Spain has come out in solidarity with their Spanish counterparts.
Late on Friday, England’s Lionesses – who were defeated by Spain in the World Cup final – released a statement supporting the players’ boycott.
“Unacceptable actions allowed to happen by a sexist and patriarchal organisation. Abuse is abuse and we have all seen the truth,” the England team posted on social media.
“The behaviour of those who think they are invincible must not be tolerated and people shouldn’t need convincing to take action against any form of harassment. We all stand with you, @jennihermoso and all players of the Spanish team.”
If that is not a death warrant for him, I don’t know what is.
The issues here illustrate more than the sense of entitlement that makes sports officials think that they can kiss women athletes at will. One has to ask why people like Rubiales are so determined to stay in power when anyone with a shred of dignity and self-respect would never have done such a thing in the first place and when they did so and were widely condemned, would have resigned. It is because being a sports administrator at the national and international levels brings with it enormous perks and benefits and is rife with opportunities for corruption and personal enrichment, all at the expense of the athletes and fans. Football and Olympics bodies are notorious for this but they are by no means the only ones.
There is a lot of money and perks sloshing around in professional sports and there are enough people who are anxious to get their hands on it. People like Rubiales are drawn to its like flies to honey.
He has ruined what should have been a period of great celebration in Spain.