Over the past ten days, the case of the forced kiss by the head of Spanish football, Luis Rubiales, on player Jennifer Hermoso’s cheek has caused quite a stir in Spain, a country known for being advanced in women’s rights.
Now dubbed the “#MeToo of Spanish football,” the case of the “forced kiss” by the head of Spanish football, Luis Rubiales, towards player Jennifer Hermoso – just after the victory of “La Roja” in the World Cup on August 20 – is shaking Spain and making headlines for the past ten days.
On Monday, August 28, two days after being suspended by FIFA, the pressure on Luis Rubiales intensified. On the legal front, the Spanish public prosecutor’s office announced the opening of a preliminary investigation for “sexual assault.”
Later in the day, the presidents of the regional football federations in Spain, summoned by the temporary president of the Federation, demanded his immediate resignation. The day before his suspension was announced, Luis Rubiales had stated that he would not resign. Throughout the affair, he has insisted that the kiss in question was consensual, which the player denies.
The federation presidents also called for “a profound and immediate restructuring of the strategic positions of the Federation in order to usher in a new stage of Spanish football management.” This decision was praised on Tuesday by the Spanish government, which pledged to end all discrimination against women in sports.
A “great event” spoiled
The case of the forced kiss has overshadowed the victory of the Spanish women, who brought home their first World Cup, just as their male counterparts had done thirteen years earlier.
“To have Spanish women win the World Cup is a great event for them. But this victory, which should have been celebrated, is somehow overshadowed by the symbolic belittlement of this women’s team,” says Carole Viñals, lecturer at the University of Lille and specialist in Spain.
This victory was even more important “as football has a considerable and central place in Spain, and women’s football was not completely respected,” explains Benoît Pellistrandi, a historian and specialist in Spain who was a guest on France 24. He emphasizes that “it has only been about ten years since it has gradually occupied a certain space.”
For him, the Spanish victory aimed to “place women’s football on an equal footing with men’s football.” He believes that the celebration is “completely spoiled” by the “illustration of a macho, brutal, crude, vulgar behavior that is exacerbated by the way Rubiales shamelessly clings to his position.”
Acts from a different mentality and age
On Monday, RFI reported that hundreds of people gathered in Madrid at the initiative of the association “Feminismo Madrid” with slogans such as “Se acabo” (“It’s over”) or “No es un pico, es una agresión” (“It’s not a kiss, it’s an aggression”). According to RFI, among the participants were Yolanda Diaz, the Minister of Labor and Deputy Prime Minister, and Irene Montero, Minister of Equality.
For several years, Spain has been at the forefront of women’s rights and equality in Europe, despite a strong Catholic tradition and a culture marked by machismo. The socialist government under Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has more women than men.
“For over twenty years, with the socialist government of José Luis Zapatero, a very active prevention policy was implemented to combat feminicides. In this regard, Spain has one of the lowest rates in Europe,” recalls Benoît Pellistrandi.
He continues, indicating that Pedro Sanchez’s government, “especially its left wing” around Irene Montero (former deputy leader of the radical left party Podemos), had “significantly strengthened the policy for the protection of women, particularly in sexual relationships” with the law of “Solo si es si” – which places consent at the heart of sexual activity. The expert believes that Luis Rubiales’ behavior “goes against all the efforts that Spanish society is making to eliminate these practices and gestures that belong to a different mentality and age.”
According to Carole Viñals, the case of the forced kiss “has shown the response of civil society, which will be accompanied, as always in Spain, by new institutional measures in sports that will be driven by the realization that women cannot be subjected to unwanted touching,” says Carole Viñals. “Kissing a woman without her consent is an act of violence.”
The specialist also points out that Spain may be a pioneer in women’s rights, but there is still a “structural machismo” inherited from the Franco dictatorship, spanning from 1939 to the constitution in 1978.
Awareness in sports
According to Carole Viñals, this “structural machismo” is also found in sports, particularly in football, which is “not particularly feminist sectors”. “Football was also one of the symbols of Francoist Spain,” she explains. But according to the specialist, “something is changing in the realm of football” since the Rubiales incident. She specifically refers to the reaction of several Spanish athletes, such as former goalkeeper of Real Madrid and the Spanish national team, Iker Casillas, who, according to her, “is not known for his feminism.”
On Friday, the former Spanish national team goalie expressed his “shame” in a message on X. In another message posted the same day, he wrote: “We should have spent these 5 days talking about our daughters! About the joy they all brought us! Boasting about a title we didn’t have in women’s football but…”.
“Football was one of the fields that remained most rooted in a certain masculine tradition. And now, there is an awareness,” concludes Carole Viñals.