England and Spain faced off in the World Cup final at Stadium AustraliaStorm Machine / Wikimedia Commons

Spain lift the World Cup. Tragedy for us in England. Joy for millions of Spanish viewers. But for the rest of the world, a showcase of the talent that women’s football has, and another step towards gender equality in sport. At least that’s what it should have been. Before the Spanish players could even get off the pitch, their glory was overshadowed by yet another sexism scandal.

During celebrations on the pitch after the match, Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales kissed player Jenni Hermoso, an act she says was non-consensual, while he insists the opposite. Rubiales had been earlier pictured grabbing his crotch as the final whistle blew. His actions were widely condemned by players and clubs, as well as the United Nations, FIFA and the Spanish government. Despite this, Rubiales continued to insist that he had done no wrong and that he would not resign, before his resignation eventually came three weeks after the incident took place.

This is by no means the first time that the Spanish women’s football team has made headlines for the treatment of its players; less than a year ago, 15 players for the Spanish Women’s national team refused to play under head coach Jorge Vilda, citing “significant” concerns for their “emotional state” and “health” for their actions. Rather than addressing the players’ concerns, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) relentlessly backed Vilda, who refused to resign, and the players were frozen out of the squad. Only three of those players returned to the national team to play in the 2023 FIFA women’s world cup.

The lack of action taken by the correct authorities to investigate any claims made or to support the affected players suggests they did not see the issues brought to light by the players as valuable enough to pursue, and it was worth avoiding the hassle of appropriate investigations to instead cast players aside. Players were told by the RFEF that “making these decisions does not fall within their power” in reference to claims that players wished for Vilda to be sacked; however, the players insist that they called for no resignations and instead changes to the management style of the team. If 15 members of the Spanish men’s team made the same complaints, I doubt that they would have been told the same thing.

Vilda was also seen clapping during Rubiales’s speech at the extraordinary general assembly called by the Spanish football federation in which he described the “social assassination” that was taking place. He was sacked from his role as head coach 11 days later.

Rubiales’s speech at this assembly was repeatedly met with applause from the audience as he reiterated that he “will not resign” and vowed to “fight until the end”. In the audience of 140, only four were women. Despite the support he continued to receive, Rubiales eventually resigned after a suspension by football’s governing body FIFA, and as a result of ongoing legal proceedings has been served with a restraining order that prevents him from being within 200 metres of Hermoso. He still insists that he did nothing wrong – it is of great concern that he fundamentally sees his behaviour as acceptable.


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The fact remains that many of the key decision makers in women’s football are men, and recent events have demonstrated that women’s opinions are still struggling to be heard; they are too easily swept aside by men who refuse to admit any wrongdoing. The player boycott less than a year ago was not taken seriously enough. If there were proper investigations into sexism within the organisation then, the changes being promised now could have been brought in much sooner.

The players of the Spanish women’s team had been boycotting the national team after the events after the World Cup until an agreement was reached last Wednesday between the players and the RFEF. The football federation has committed to “immediate and profound” changes, which means that hopefully progress is now being made. But it’s sad to think that it took such a public event with pressure from across the world to do so, rather than concerns raised by their own players nearly a year ago.

Girls initially inspired by Spain’s triumphant campaign will now have to confront the abundance of sexism within this system. Unfortunately, Spain’s win has been more than an impressive performance by a team of outstanding players: it’s a damning representation of the ongoing war against sexism that women’s football must face.