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Why a kiss is not just a kiss: Spanish football chief Luis Rubiales has to quit

Has Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales left a bad taste in the mouth of some of Spain's women's footballers?
Has Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales left a bad taste in the mouth of some of Spain's women's footballers? Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
By Marta Rodriguez Martinez
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The earth moved and many people felt their knees tremble as the chief of Spain's football federation clasped Jenni Hermoso's head and kissed her on the lips. But there was certainly no romance in the air. Marta Rodriguez Martinez says Luis Rubiales deserves a red card for his bad behaviour.


Almost a week after Spain's historic victory in the Women's World Cup, the spotlight has been stolen by a man: Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

However, he doesn't have pride of place for any good reason. Instead his crotch-grabbing antics at the final whistle, followed by his unwelcome kiss on the lips of Jennifer Hermoso, have underscored gender inequality. Did he behave in the same manner with  goalkeeper Iker Casillas when the men's team lifted the World Cup in 2010? Clearly, he did not.

Following calls for his resignation, Rubiales today announced that he would not resign after he kissed Hermoso. He described the controversial kiss as "spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual".

It didn't seem very consensual.

Reflecting on this issue, I recalled a Spanish mother, María Vázquez, whom I interviewed in 2018. She garnered social media attention for collecting photos of female footballers to create sticker albums for her daughters. This initiative stemmed from the absence of albums featuring their favourite female players, a contrast to those available for male players.

From the shadows to the spotlight

Fast forward five years and women's football visibility has notably improved in Spain.

María's three daughters, aged 14, 11, and 8, were glued to the TV last Sunday, witnessing their idols become world champions. Yet, this time they didn’t feel alone in their enthusiasm. The match garnered attention from numerous viewers in Spain, setting a record.

Maria's youngest daughter may keep her jersey on until the next Women's World Cup

The Spain-England final became the most-watched women's football match in Spain's history, boasting a 65.7% viewership share and an audience of 5.599 million. 

Notably, it also secured the highest viewership share of the year on Spanish public television (TVE) for both women's and men's matches, ranking third in terms of total viewers.

María told me that her middle daughter watched the game with friends she introduced to the players through the stickers. She also gleefully described their excitement and exhilaration at the game's only goal, as they personally know and admire the goal scorer, Olga Carmona.

Manu Fernandez/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Spain World Cup winning goalscorer Olga Carmona lifted on stage by teammates after 1-0 victory over England in final.Manu Fernandez/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Imagine these three girls whose affinity for women's football transformed, from awaiting their mother's homemade albums, to celebrating victory alongside the entire nation.

Looking back now, perhaps I disliked football because I never experienced such a moment. During my childhood, women's football wasn't broadcast on TV, nor was it discussed in mainstream media, and we were never invited to join any games on  playgrounds or pitches. How could I develop an interest in a sport where my role was confined to being a mere cheerleader?

But let's go back to the Women's World Cup - the kiss Rubiales forcibly bestowed on one of the players delivers a clear message: despite all their achievements on and off the field, women are to be treated as girls. And even then, such behaviour is unwarranted.

False expectations

Following extensive criticism, including that of Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, many expected Rubiales would decide to pay the ultimate price and resign today. 

However, we could not have been more wrong. 


"Does this justify my resignation? Well, let me tell you something. I will not resign," Rubiales reaffirmed and characterised the criticisms as a result of the "sensationalism of false feminism," adding that the intention behind that kiss "was the same as it could be in a kiss to my daughters."

María recounts that her daughters initially overlooked the gesture amidst the jubilation. But as the controversy stirred in Spain, it sparked a conversation amongst them.

I don't know how many other girls failed to notice. 

For those of us raised without football representation, this incident serves as a reminder of recurring gendered treatment in various aspects of life. Translate that kiss into a 'thanks, darling’ from a boss. A sneering superior attitude perhaps unconsciously expressed by the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell only a day ago.


And that's why the wound runs deep – regardless of our achievements, we'll always receive the 'play like a girl' treatment.

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