Unwanted Kiss Prompts Spain to Change Soccer Culture

03 September 2023

Spain has spoken loudly through its government, politicians, soccer teams and ordinary citizens to condemn the leader of its soccer federation for kissing a player.

Luis Rubiales kissed soccer player Jenni Hermoso on the mouth just after Spain defeated England to win the women's soccer World Cup in August.

The 46-year-old Rubiales took the action during the awards ceremony following the game. Hermoso is one of the star players on Spain's team. The 33-year-old said she did not want or like the kiss.

FILE - Spain's Jennifer Hermoso celebrates with President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales after the match, August 20, 2023. (REUTERS/Hannah Mckay)
FILE - Spain's Jennifer Hermoso celebrates with President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales after the match, August 20, 2023. (REUTERS/Hannah Mckay)

FIFA, the world soccer governing body, later suspended Rubiales for 90 days. The Spanish government is considering whether to push for his permanent removal from the job.

Some Spanish women who grew up playing soccer said kisses and unwanted touches from male leaders were common. They want the behavior to change.

Patricia Otero is 30. She is a high school teacher but still plays soccer in her free time. She said "we have seen that all our lives," when asked about Rubiales' actions.

She said male coaches would often touch her and say "you are like a daughter to me." Otero said she was too young to know it was wrong. "You think it is normal," she said.

People in Spain now say it is time to end sexism in soccer. They point to policies and actions that favor boys and men over women and girls in the sport. For example, Otero said she and her teammates had to raise money for their team and clean their own locker rooms. The boys did not have to do that.

The Associated Press recently interviewed Spanish women working in soccer and other professions. Many said that Rubiales' behavior would have been ignored if the act had taken place 10 years earlier.

Maria Soleto is president of Spain's Women's Foundation. She said Spanish society has undergone a seismic shift.

At recent men's games in Spain's famous "La Liga," the country's top league, fans shouted repeatedly against Rubiales. They said he must leave his position. In Madrid, hundreds of people gathered in support of Hermoso.

The campaign of support is being called "Se Acabo" in Spain. It means "this is over." The male players on Sevilla's La Liga team wore the term on their soccer shirts.

The kiss may serve as a lesson for male leaders throughout the world. Lisa Banks is a civil rights and employment lawyer in Washington, D.C. She said men in sports now know "that an assault is an assault, even if it happens in a moment of jubilation."

Although the early reactions in Spain seemed to support Rubiales, the general opinion is now against him. The women's soccer team said it will not play any other games if he keeps his job. Government lawyers are deciding whether to open a case against Rubiales for sexual aggression. Some Spanish soccer federation officials are calling for his resignation.

Hermoso called the kiss "the final straw." She said the actions during the championship celebration "have been a part of our team's daily life for years."

Even before the kiss, the players had protested their treatment by soccer officials. Almost a year ago, 15 Spanish players said they would no longer play for coach Jorge Vilda if things did not get better. Spain's soccer federation sided with Vilda and replaced most of the players.

Other observers of women's sports hope the outcry over the kiss improves the financial conditions for women players. Some mid-level male soccer players earn close to $200,000 per year while the women only earn about $17,000.

Pilar Calvo of Spain's Association of Women in Professional Sports said she has seen five times the number of protests over inequality in recent days.

She said people have talked about inequality in prize money, poor training centers and a lack of financial support.

Others, including Tona Is, a former player and coach, say they feel vindicated. She was a top player on Spain's under-17 team in 2018 and an assistant to Vilda until she was dismissed in 2020.

She said she lost her job because she protested about bad behavior by male leaders.

"Time has finally shown that we were right, that there have been inappropriate episodes inside the federation for years," she said.

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by The Associated Press.


Words in This Story

coach n. a person who runs a sports team and helps players learn the game

locker room n. the place where a sports team dresses and keeps their regular clothing

interview n. a conversation between two people where one seeks information

seismic adj. having to do with the energy created when two parts of the earth move against each other, such as in an earthquake

league n. an organization, usually of sports teams, that creates games and a schedule and awards a winner or championship

assault n. a form of violence where one person attacks another

jubilation adj. a large amount of excitement

final straw expression – the last in a series of bad things to make someone very upset and unwilling to accept any more bad things

inappropriate episode n. an event or happening or action that is not socially permitted