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The Women’s World Cup kiss shows shameless misogyny is still alive

Controversy continues as the President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation resists calls for his resignation after kissing Spain’s star player following their win at the Women’s World Cup.

When Spain triumphed over England in the Women’s World Cup final this month, it was unfortunately the action of a single man that became the lasting centre of attention.

Spain’s star player, Jenni Hermoso, was preparing for the trophy presentation ceremony by first accepting congratulations from several football officials. As she stepped back from hugging Luis Rubiales, the President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, he grabbed Hermoso’s head with both hands and kissed her on the mouth.

It was a move she would later say was not welcome.

For those watching, the initial shock of witnessing the kiss quickly transformed into a feeling of disgust. Many have viewed it as just another unfortunate example of how men in positions of power will take advantage of women with zero regard for the consequences.

Hermoso has since called Rubiale’s action ‘impulse-driven, sexist, and out of place without any consent on [her] part.’  It marked only one act of a series of strange and lewd behaviours displayed by Luis Rubiales throughout the competition.

He had shown questionable conduct towards numerous other Spanish players, kissing them on the cheeks and throwing Athenea del Castillo over his shoulder and parading her around the pitch.

Rubiales was also witnessed exaggeratedly grabbing his crotch while standing beside Spanish Queen Letizia and 16-year-old Princess Sofía. Responding to inquiries about the gesture, he said, ‘In a moment of euphoria, I grabbed that part of my body.’

It is also apparent that Rubiales visited the women’s locker room after the match, telling the Spanish team that he would take them on a trip to Ibiza, where he said he would marry Jenni Hermoso.

Rubiales’ public response to the public scrutiny? ‘I will not resign’ and ‘sorry to those who were offended.’

The cultural debate

It’s well known that the custom of kissing one another’s cheeks as a friendly greeting is woven into the fabric of European culture.

Many have brought this forward as an excuse for Rubiales’ behaviour. However, this wasn’t a kiss on the cheek in celebration – it was a blatant kiss on the mouth. Even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has labelled it as an outright abuse of power and an ‘unacceptable gesture’.

Speaking publicly about the controversy, Rubiales has excused his own behaviour on account of it being ‘spontaneous, mutual, and euphoric.’ He has also continued to deny that it had taken place without consent.

Quite the contrary are Hermoso’s thoughts on the kiss she didn’t ask for. Hermoso has stated that she ‘didn’t like’ what Rubiales had done and felt she had become a ‘victim of aggression, a sexist act.’ Rubiales responded by saying that he would not resign to ‘false feminism.’

Calls to remove Rubiales from his position as president of the Spanish Football Federation have been ongoing. The sport’s international governing body FIFA has now moved to suspend him for 90 days as it investigates the incident.

For the most part, the Royal Spanish Football Federation has stood in solidarity with its President. The organisation has been helping to downplay what happened, threatening to sue Hermoso, and framing the backlash against Rubiales as a ‘witch hunt.’

Only in recent days have the Spanish organisation’s regional leaders voiced support for Rubiales’ resignation.

Anyone debating whether Rubiales’ actions were‘harmless’ only need to refer to Hermosa’s public statements afterwards, which clearly indicate that she did not enjoy nor welcome such an interaction to take place.

Not to mention that it occurred on the world stage as she celebrated one of the best moments of her professional career.

Addressing the wider issue

The Women’s World Cup kiss has sparked a much-needed conversation about sexual misconduct and abuse of power in the world of sport.

Both women’s football players and men’s team players in Spain have shown support of Hermoso since the incident. All of the players from the Spanish women’s team have said they will refuse to play for their country until Rubiales resigns.

It has also caused previous controversies to resurface. For example, fifteen players had refused the opportunity to play for the Spanish national team last year over concerns about the culture that head coach Jorge Vilda had fostered there.

Vilda was criticised for his management style, was known to ‘overwork’ players even if they were injured, and was publicly scrutinised after video footage showed him touching a colleague’s breast during a World Cup match.

Just a few years prior, the team’s previous manager Ignacio Quereda had been let go on account of complaints of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, abuse, and sexual coercion from every single member of the women’s team.

Bear in mind that these incidents are only known because they have been reported or caught on camera. Yet they have managed to leave a considerable paper trail of abuse and misconduct within the world of women’s football in Spain.

That said, the highly publicised debate around Rubiales’ conduct is important, as it’s more than likely that his behaviour is not unique to the Spanish national team.