By Anuradha Gandhi and Isha Sharma
Former President of Spain Soccer Federation, Luis Rubiales, resigned on September 10, 2023 following the kissing scandal at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Luis Rubiales was widely criticized for forcibly kissing Jenni Hermoso, one of the leading soccer players on her lips amidst the globally televised awards ceremony after Spain defeated England in the Women’s World Cup Final on August 20, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. It was a kiss which she did not consent to and this is what holds the greatest significance. Winning the World cup should have been the highlight of her career but for Hermoso and her team, it became about fighting for her rights. It was no more about the football but, gender justice.
Rubiales remained defiant contending that the kiss was not non-consensual and mutual. He said, “it was like one I could give one of my daughters”. He called the claim to be false and painted himself as victim of a witch hunt by false feminist. While the team should have been celebrating their victory they were left waging a battle against their boss.
FIFA World Football’s governing body suspended him for a period of 90 days for the misconduct and the government called him to resign but he refused to step down. His defense was so brazen that it brought thousands to the streets of Spain to support Hermoso.
The Spanish Prosecutors have also filed a complaint against Rubiales with charges of sexual assault and coercion for kissing the player without her consent. It is now at the discretion of the courts to decide whether to present formal charges against him or not.
There were protests, there were calls for him to resign by the public, politicians, and the Spanish football federation. Despite the tremendous pressure, he remained defiant until September 10 after he succumbed to relentless pressure. After weeks of controversy, he announced his resignation in a social media platform.
This marked a pivotal moment for a nation like Spain wherein the patriarchal roots stand firm. However, if Rubiales is found guilty, he could be fined or jailed with sentences ranging from one to five years as it is an offence punishable under Spanish law.
“Under Article 178 of the Penal Code, a person shall be guilty of a sexual assault when that person offends against the sexual freedom of another person, using violence or intimidation. When found guilty, a person shall be punished for sexual assault with a sentence of imprisonment from one to five years”
The FIFA World Cup was meant to symbolize equality, yet the kiss incident highlighted that women still finds potholes in navigating male arena. Instead of focusing solely on the victory, it expeditiously turned into a focal point for this controversy.
This is not the tale of Hermoso but of many who have experienced the abuse of power and gender disparities all over the world. Sexual harassment within sports federations is not merely limited to Spain or any particular country, it is a global concern. Sports federations often involve a hierarchical structure wherein those in authority would wield significant power. This power dynamic often creates an environment where athletes, coaches and staff feel vulnerable and affect their personal as well as professional lives. The relationship between sports aspirant and the coach is similar to a Guru and shishya but in recent times, there have emerged a number of claims of predatory behaviour, misogyny and sexual harassment in sports defiling the relationship. In the month of January 2023, about thirty Indian wrestlers, including Olympic medalists, staged a sit-in, accusing the President of the Wrestling Federation of India and its coaches of sexual harassment.
We have written an article enumerating the prevalence of sexual harassment cases in sports federations in India. If you are keen to know about it in detail, please refer to https://ssrana.in/articles/sexual-harassment-cases-sports-federations/
As we may recall, the high profiled wrestling’s sexual harassment case wherein the former chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), Mr. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, was accused of sexually harassing six female wrestlers. The case is under investigation under the provisions of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, also known as the POSH Act, 2013.1
The prevalence of sexual harassment cases in sports federations is a stain on the world of sports, which needs to be taken due notice in order to preserve the integrity and value of sports.