MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 28: Protesters during a demonstration called by feminist associations in support to Spain's player Jenni Hermoso, at Callao square in Madrid on August 28, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. Prompted by Luis Rubiales' refusal to resign, protesters in Madrid are rallying against sexual violence in sport. Rubiales, the president of Spain's soccer federation, faces potential FIFA suspension over allegations of inappropriate behavior, including an unwanted kiss on player Jenni Hermoso's lips after Spain's Women's World Cup victory. 81 players from the national team have gone on strike, and the majority of Spain's women's coaching staff have resigned, intensifying the mounting pressure for Rubiales to step down from his position. (Photo by Aldara Zarraoa/Getty Images)

Jenni Hermoso Bringing Reckoning to Women’s Fútbol Needed All Over the World

Photo by Aldara Zarraoa/Getty Images

When Luis Rubiales, the President of the Royal Federation of Spanish Football, assaulted Spanish player Jennifer Hermoso during the medal ceremony at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the entire world was watching. And the entire world has rightfully turned on Rubiales, who has so far refused to step down and has instead tried to paint himself as the victim in a situation he caused. But the reckoning coming for Rubiales, and hopefully, fútbol in general, isn’t just about Spain’s national team. It never has been. Rubiales was just the first man in a position of power to show his true colors in a way the world has been unable to ignore in women’s fútbol.

A year before, fifteen of Spain’s star players refused to return to the team while head coach Jorge Vilda remained in charge, because of clashes over his coaching style. Vilda’s absurd rules included examining players bags before they entered training and requiring players to keep their hotel rooms unlocked until he “checked” them and gave them permission to lock up for the night. A few days ago, Vilda’s entire coaching stuff resigned in response to Rubiales’ assault. Vilda, however, has given no indication he plans to step down, though there are reports the RFEF is getting ready to dismiss him.

But long before that, the US Women’s National Team made headlines with their fight for equal pay – a fight that only concluded with an equal pay bill for U.S women athletes early this year. The rest of the world, meanwhile, is still fighting for equal pay. This includes the women’s team from Colombia who made it just as far as the men’s team in their World Cup but don’t receive anywhere near the same pay. And just as there is no equal pay for women athletes around the world, there’s also no equal investment in uplifting the women’s game. 

The prize money for the 2023 Women’s FIFA World Cup was $110 million, a quarter of the $440 million allocated for the men’s World Cup, which took place in Qatar just a few months ago. The same goes for FIFA’s investment in the tournament in general. Calls for equal pay were, after all, dismissed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino as a “slogan” that “would not solve anything,” this said by the same man who told women players they needed to “convince” men to push forward women’s fútbol.

Even the name of the World Cup – FIFA Women’s World Cup, is proof of how far we are from true equality. The men’s World Cup is just the FIFA World Cup, the Women’s World Cup needs the gender spelled out in the title. For fútbol, and the global organisms behind it, men are the standard, women are the outliers. 

The Jenni Hermoso situation, and its backlash, only proves the point. Rubiales is rightfully being condemned right now, but even his refusal to step down after very openly assaulting a player while millions of people watched, proves that in his mind, and in the minds of so many men in power, what happened is nothing. Hermoso’s bodily autonomy is not more important than Rubiales’ desire to celebrate her achievement however he pleases.

But Rubiales is just the tip of the iceberg. As he promised not to step down during a meeting with Federation Presidents and called feminism a problem, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with the head coaches of both the men’s and women’s national teams giving him a standing ovation. Both have now condemned the embattled President because it’s now required to do so. Not because they actually believe he did or said anything wrong.

The Federation Rubiales’ ran, the same one that has continued to attack Hermoso and all Spanish female players in press release after press release, is rotten to the core. Institutional change is needed, and that change goes beyond the figurehead. Everyone who thought Rubiales was right, who supported him, and who looked the other way as he made this kind of behavior the norm needs to take a long look at themselves – and face consequences. That includes UEFA and FIFA leadership.

At the end of the day, Jenni Hermoso has blown the lid of a big problem not just in Spanish fútbol, but in women’s sports in general – and she has hopefully started a movement that will force many in the European country to come to terms with their own biases. But the problem isn’t just Spain’s. It never was. The reckoning, and the changes, are needed in every country that treats women’s sports like it’s inferior in comparison to men’s sports, and women like they cannot make decisions about their own bodies – which sadly is most countries out there, including Latin America.

Se acabó, like Jenni Hermoso said. Enough is enough.