One man’s kiss, yes, but Luis Rubiales scandal only highlights a wider problem

One man’s kiss, yes, but Luis Rubiales scandal only highlights a wider problem

As the Luis Rubiales scandal has unravelled since Spain’s historic World Cup win, it has been easy to paint the saga as about one individual.

“Such a disgrace that one awful bloke has taken all the attention away from the Spanish women’s wonderful achievement,” tweeted Gary Lineker, for example, in a well-meaning but misguided show of support for the players.

The more events have played out, the clearer it has become that it is not only a story about Rubiales — or “a peck” as he described his kiss on Jenni Hermoso — but a reflection of Spanish society, as well as football itself.

To recap, Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), kissed Hermoso on the lips after Spain’s 1-0 win over England in Sydney on August 20. Hermoso has insisted the kiss was not consensual but has been accused of lying by her own Federation and Rubiales, who has since been widely condemned, banned by FIFA for 90 days and could even face prosecution.

Ten days after being crowned world champions for the first time, Spain effectively no longer have a women’s team, after 81 players refused to play under the current regime.

First off, the scandal has laid bare a culture of institutional malpractice at the RFEF, which quickly closed ranks around Rubiales in the aftermath and is only now deserting him.

Rubiales plainly believed himself untouchable on Friday when he gave an extraordinary speech at an emergency RFEF meeting, which included repeated refusals to resign and his already-infamous claim: “Did you really think a peck would bring me down?”

From the start, a malicious network around Rubiales has worked to protect him, from issuing a fraudulent statement masquerading as an apology from Hermoso to pressuring the player, her family and friends to support the president. Remarkably, under the conditions of his ban FIFA have since ordered Rubiales not to contact Hermoso or her camp, although his family has continued to accuse her of lies in public.

Women’s national team boss Jorge Vilda, who has refused to resign even after all 11 members of his coaching staff stepped down in condemnation of Rubiales, was in the audience for the president’s speech on Friday, applauding his boss.

Vilda has since criticised Rubiales, another sign that he is fast running out of allies, but the pair have previously stuck together in the face of various scandals and accusations, including the resignation of 15 players in protest at his management last year. Three were recalled by Vilda for the World Cup.

The culture of misogyny long pre-dates the current regime, however, and a documentary released in 2021 revealed how Vilda’s predecessor, Ignacio Quereda, who was in charge of the women’s team for 27 years until 2015, oversaw a “tyrannical” regime, according to multiple former players.

The scandal is actually one of the best examples of football reflecting wider society.

When players spoke out, Quereda was backed by Angel Maria Villar, Rubiales’ predecessor, until he was finally sacked following the 2015 World Cup, when all 23 members of the squad publicly called for his dismissal.

The scandal, though, has become such an overwhelmingly divisive and important issue in Spain because it is also far more than a consequence of RFEF’s rotten culture.

It is actually one of the best examples of football reflecting wider society, and the grim normalisation of sexual assault, misogyny and machismo in Spain and beyond.

Many women have spoken up about how the incident has resonated with them, and will know that the root cause is about far more than just one man.