Content warning: sexual harassment and assault
Ten long days have passed since the 2023 Women’s World Cup final. The Royal Spanish Football Federation, or RFEF, and its president Luis Rubiales still believe they did nothing wrong.
One of the most influential #MeToo movements in women’s sports history took the world stage this past week after Rubiales forcibly kissed Spanish striker Jenni Hermoso during the World Cup celebration ceremony Aug. 20.
The conversation grew even louder after Rubiales alleged mutual desire, called the actions of people who criticized him “fake feminism” and shouted repeatedly at a press conference “I will not resign!” after many called for his resignation.
Hermoso’s national teammate and twice Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas shared her stance on X, formerly known as Twitter. The post, originally written in Spanish, translates to: “This is unacceptable. It’s over. With you, partner @Jennihermoso.”
At a press conference Friday, Rubiales insisted that “the kiss was spontaneous and with consent.” Within 24 hours, the Spanish women’s national football team released a statement on X announcing that “(they) will not return to a call of the National Team if the current leaders continue.”
This statement was co-signed by all 23 players who won the World Cup and other Spanish players who support the decision. The following day, the team’s coaching staff — with the exception of unpopular head coach Jorge Vilda — resigned in protest at the “unacceptable attitudes and statements” of Rubiales.
Hermoso also publicly affirmed that she did not consent to being kissed by Rubiales, expressing that she “felt vulnerable and (was) the victim of an aggression, an impulsive, machista (chauvinistic) act, out of place and without any consent on my part. Simply put, I was not respected.”
Female players outside of Spain were also quick to take action. On Aug. 26, the England and Germany women’s national teams both sent public messages in support of Hermoso. Brazil Captain Marta Vieira da Silva, Sweden captain Caroline Seger, U.S. captain Alex Morgan and U.S. winger Megan Rapinoe all supported her via social media.
Despite the abundance of protests, RFEF has yet to apologize. In their latest announcement, RFEF alleged that Hermoso lied about the kiss and will take legal action, and warned protesting players that they have an “obligation” to play for the national team.
After all, they have a history of abusively using their power. As many as 15 female soccer players left Spain’s national team last year in protest, complaining of outdated training methods and controlling behavior by Rubiales and Vilda. Some later returned to participate in the World Cup.
In relation to Rubiales’ actions over the course of the last week, FIFA responded by suspending him from soccer-related activities for 90 days. RFEF also deleted an announcement they released on X.
Things seem optimistic … or are they?
Compared to the responses that arose in the women’s sports world, what male soccer players have demonstrated is much more disappointing.
Within 24 hours of the press conference, only six current players expressed support to their female teammates. Namely, the Barça Captain Sergi Roberto, the Real Betis players Héctor Bellerín, Borja Iglesias, Isco and Aitor Ruibal, and the former Spanish national team goalkeeper David De Gea.
Neither of the current Spain captains nor 23 players who were selected to play for the national team have commented.
Their silence and absence are shocking — or perhaps not.
A few months ago, male players showed support for former Manchester City player Benjamin Mendy after his criminal charges were dropped. Mendy had been previously charged with eight counts of rape, one attempted rape and a sexual assault.
In another case, they supported former Manchester City player Mason Greenwood to return to the club’s first team after his charges alleging physical and sexual assault of a woman were dropped.
Memphis Depay, a player for Atlético de Madrid, was one of the most active supporters of the Mendy issue.
He wrote on Instagram, “We can’t accept this to happen to us as athletes … who’s going to stand up for us in the time of need, not when the damage is already done? Don’t turn your head away people … !”
And today, he’s not an exception from his peers. He remains silent on what Jenni Hermoso and her teammates have suffered. He seems to have become the one who “turns his head away.”
So does Paul Pogba, who was glad that Mendy was able to “clean (his) name.” This is also the case for Vinicius Jr. who spoke for Mendy.
“What about the psychological damage? Surely your life will never be the same,” Vinicius Jr. said.
Ivan Rakitić, Jack Grealish, Antonio Rüdiger and Oleksandr Zinchenko cheered and agreed with Memphis Depay under his Instagram post. Several Manchester United players also showed their support for Greenwood, according to The Sun.
As FC Barcelona’s female team coach Jonatan Giraldez said on X, “Remember that when you don’t choose your sides, you’ve already chosen your side.”