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Women’s football triumph has… (unsurprisingly) been overruled by sexism

a collage of jennifer hermoso playing football celebrating her win by holding a trophy and the moment that luis rubiales kissed her on stage
Women's football triumph sadly overruled by sexismGetty Images

How many members of the Spanish women’s football team are you able to name? I’m going to be honest and say for me – for my shame – the answer is just one: Jennifer Hermoso. And sadly, that answer has nothing to do with the fact that she’s one of the all-time top scorers for both Barcelona and Spain (nor my personal lukewarm feelings towards football in general).

No, unfortunately the only reason I know the name Jenni Hermoso is because she has been the subject of thousands of articles and social media comments over the past nine days following the Spanish women’s team 1-0 victory over England in the Women’s World Cup final on 20 August. The reason? She was kissed on the lips by Luis Rubiales, the President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. Live on television. In front of millions of viewers. Without her consent.

That split-second moment (which Hermoso has since clearly said is a prime example of the behaviour female footballers routinely face, see also: every social media comment along the lines of ‘WiLL ThEy SwAp sHiRtS AfTeR a MaTcH’) went on to spark both major backlash and division – and a bizarre 800-word statement from Spain's football federation, backing Rubiales’ claim that the kiss was above board. “The RFEF and Mr President will demonstrate each of the lies that are spread, either by someone on behalf of the player or, if applicable, by the player herself,” the statement, published three days ago, said. It also threatened legal action.

president of the royal spanish football federation luis rubiales kisses jennifer hermoso of spain during the medal ceremony of the womens world cup 2023
The image shared – and analysed – around the worldEurasia Sport Images - Getty Images

There has also been a press conference featuring Rubiales refusing to resign and branding the kiss as “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual”, stressing that he asked beforehand if he could give Hermoso “a little peck”.

On the flipside, in a powerful display of female solidarity, the entire winning squad, along with 32 other players, have vowed never to play for their country again whilst Rubiales remains in the top seat. Spain’s Acting Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz also labelled the moment as a prime example of the “systemic” misogyny that exists in Spain, in not only the sporting world but throughout the nation as a whole. A sentiment echoed by Hermoso, who said she was reluctant to comment on the matter at all, keen to keep the focus on her team’s achievements. “What I have experienced is only a drop in a full glass,” she said a few days ago, adding that she’s been under pressure from multiple sources to share a statement in support of Rubiales. “Acts like these have been part of daily life in our national team for years.”

Over a week on from the cup final, and the headlines show no signs of slowing either – and none of them are focussed on the players’ talents, or the fact that this Women’s World Cup broke records in terms of both attendees and viewing figures.

Instead, the primary news story is about how Rubiales has now received a 90-day ban from all football-related activity, as ordered by FIFA's disciplinary committee, and how his mother has locked herself inside a church and embarked on a hunger strike in protest. “I am willing to die for justice because my son is a decent person and it is not fair what they’re doing,” she told a Spanish news outlet. Hermoso has also been offered the option to make a formal complaint.

ivana andres of spain and teammates celebrate with the fifa women's world cup trophy
Cameron Spencer - Getty Images

Whilst there’s certainly something to be said about the incredible way the Spanish players have banded together in a solid show of support for Hermoso – and that it’s vitally important that inappropriate behaviour such as this doesn’t go unchecked – isn’t it a crying shame that this is what has taken centre stage? After all the hype and excitement about the future of the women’s game, it’s evident that a man still has the power to derail the narrative with an action lasting just seconds – something that is so deeply, deeply depressing. It’s a brutal reminder of just how far women’s sport (and women more generally) still has to go. Even when a team wins, it seems they’re still losing in so many other ways.

As well as supporting Hermoso, whether or not she decides to take further action – it’s important we all remember to give her her flowers as a player too. And remember that she never asked to become the poster child for a new (albeit clearly necessary) MeToo movement. Let’s just hope Hermoso will be the last female footballer who has to add ‘fought for the right to be treated as an equal and not an object’ into their career biography.

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