SPANISH FOOTBALL FEDERATION chief Luis Rubiales has resigned from his position as president over the controversy that ignited after his unsolicited kiss of forward, Jenni Hermoso, after Spain’s victory in the Women’s World Cup (WWC), nearly a month ago.
The story exploded when Hermoso said she “didn’t like it” of the kiss on a live stream minutes after the medal presentation. A week later the hashtag #SeAcabó, meaning “it’s over” in Spanish began trending across social media.
Rubiales announced his resignation in a statement in which he said his position had become untenable.
A Spanish prosecutor filed a complaint with the High Court against Rubiales last week for sexual assault and coercion over his allegedly unsolicited kiss on the lips of Hermoso.
Announced on Friday, the complaint describes how Rubiales kissed Hermoso on the mouth “without her consent” while holding her head with both hands after Spain defeated England in the World Cup final in Sydney on August 20.
Rubiales had said the kiss was mutual and consensual. Until Sunday, he had resisted calls from players, government officials and others for him to resign.
Hermoso also lodged a criminal complaint against him last week.
Rubiales had also been suspended for three months from all football activities by FIFA pending an investigation by the sport’s world governing body into his actions.
“After the rapid suspension carried out by FIFA, plus the rest of the proceedings opened against me, it is clear that I will not be able to return to my position,” Rubiales said in his statement. “Insisting on waiting and clinging … is not going to contribute anything positive, neither to the federation nor to Spanish football. Among other things, because there are de facto powers that will prevent my return.”
While some have argued that the ugly incident and its subsequent controversy have overshadowed Spain’s victory, for a country where women’s football has somehow managed to thrive despite an entrenched culture of cronyism, political infighting and sexism, the players were quick to seize a moment that had the potential to be bigger than sport.
“Grandma, tell me about how your team won the World Cup,” read an illustration posted on social media by Spanish goalkeeper Misa Rodríguez a few days after the kiss. The grandmother answers: “We didn’t just win the World Cup, little one. We won so much more.”
Of course, watershed moments need a suitable villain to truly ignite them (Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby et al) and Rubiales, who bears a striking resemblance to British actor Mark Strong—an actor who’s played his fair share of dirtbags—certainly contributed to his own predicament. Instead of wholeheartedly apologising for his disgraceful act straight away, Rubilales dug in, his belligerence revealing of the man he is: one who thought nothing of kissing a woman against her wishes.
In the days that followed the kiss, Rubiales launched an attack against “false feminism”, saying, “I will not resign” five times. He also attempted to portray himself as a victim of a social media witch hunt, recast the kiss “as a peck”, and even tried to blame Hermoso for the incident: “She was the one who lifted me in her arms and brought me close to her body,” he said, seeming to forget the act was caught on camera.
In case you’ve somehow missed it, the kiss was prolonged and forceful, the manner in which he grabbed Hermoso’s head giving her little hope of resisting it, which would have been difficult in a public forum anyway. He later said it was consensual, saying he had asked Hermoso’s permission prior to doing it, which Hermoso vehemently denied, saying she felt “vulnerable and the victim of an assault”.
“I want to clarify that at no time did I consent to the kiss that he gave me and in no case did I seek to lift up the president,” Hermoso said in the statement released through her Futpro union.
She said that she had repeatedly rebuffed the RFEF’S request to make a comment that would justify Rubiales’ act and reduce the pressure on the football chief. “I’m sure that as a world champion national team we do not deserve such a manipulative, hostile and controlling culture,” she added.
Rubiales’ resignation comes on the heels of last week’s sacking of Jorge Vilda, the coach who led the country to their World Cup triumph.
That Spain managed to win the World Cup is all the more incredible—it deserves a doco—given how divided the team and how troubled the federation has been over the last year. Less than a year ago 15 players, dubbed Las 15, sent identical emails to Rubiales, saying their “emotional and health state [had] been significantly affected” by “recent events” and made themselves unavailable for selection. Their grievance was with Vilda’s selections, preparation, tactics and the controlling environment the players felt he created. As you would expect, Rubiales backed Vildas, and only three of Las 15 were picked in Vilda’s World Cup squad. The division within the ranks made for some awkward scenes in the immediate aftermath of the final, with the players initially celebrating in one jubilant throng and Vilda and his staff in another, before the enormity of the moment saw the two groups grudgingly merge, with some players embracing Vilda.
Taking a step back, the issue shapes as red meat for online men’s rights trolls, who will be gathering their pitchforks and loading their digital AK47s for what they will likely frame as an online rear-guard action in the face of ‘militant feminism’ and the unprovoked onslaught of ‘woke warriors’. Now that Rubiales has been forced to resign, it won’t be a surprise if he becomes a martyr for an angry armada of digital activists.
That may be the case, but with Rubiales’ resignation and Vilda’s sacking, the power of the #SeAcabó movement has been proven. Rather than overshadow the team’s triumph on the pitch, it makes the legacy of the victory even more impactful.