Luis Rubiales is a sad symbol of much bigger issues in women’s football | Spanish women’s soccer team

I was horrified when Luis Rubiales grabbed Jenni Hermoso’s head and kissed her on the mouth as Spain accepted their World Cup medals in Sydney. Unfortunately, while it was genuinely shocking to see such brazen behavior on the biggest stage, that moment was all too typical of the way women around the world are often treated in the shadow of football.

Far too many players can tell you stories about organisations, clubs and coaches with shady undertones. Over the years, playing in different countries, I’ve seen, heard and experienced enough not to be amazed at Rubiales’ audacity in believing he could get away with it. In his world as president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and, not to forget, Uefa vice-president, this is clearly normalized behaviour.

In fact, it’s just a sad symbol of a much larger, systemic problem. Last Friday, Rubiales was addressing an emergency meeting of Spanish FA delegates, but instead of apologizing to Hermoso and expressing regret at having ruined the greatest moment in the Spanish players’ career, he presented himself as the victim of a witch hunt.

As he repeatedly reiterated his refusal to resign, Rubiales – now suspended by FIFA – caused loud cheers from several delegates. Among those who applauded him were Jorge Vilda and Luis de la Fuente, managers of Spain’s women’s and men’s teams respectively. I found that pretty sad.

Both men have since made a U-turn, condemning the kiss while the regional presidents of the Spanish Football Federation spoke on Monday demanded the immediate resignation of Rubialesbut it’s hard to forget that they smacked Rubiales and that Vilda was kept at his job despite long-standing player complaints about his allegedly controlling behavior.

Perhaps only Rubiales could have been brave enough to reveal his true self on such a grand stage in the full glare of the world’s cameras and alongside Spain’s wonderfully dignified Queen Letizia, but his cheerleaders made it possible. Their complicity added to Hermoso’s agonizing discomfort. As a result, even as she and her stellar team-mates defeated England, a certain type of man with a certain attitude towards women continued to underestimate them.

Jenni Hermoso (middle), Alexia Putellas (left) and Irene Paredes (right) present the World Championship. Photo: Franck Fife/JIJI Press/AFP/Getty Images

Rubiales’ lack of respect for Hermoso and his rude gesture of grabbing his crotch reflected the condescending, often controlling masculine mindset that women in almost every industry and from all walks of life recognize immediately. One of the reasons this incident resonated so well is that you didn’t have to be a football player — or even a football fan — to know how Hermoso must have felt.

Women around the world instinctively understood the syndrome and their response was emotional. Such overt discrimination may be extremely rare in public, but it remains widespread behind closed doors. Accordingly, Rubiales’ threat of legal action over Hermoso’s alleged “lies” should no doubt ring some alarm bells

Confirmation of a systemic problem within the Spanish FA came as Hermoso’s claim that the kiss was most definitely not consensual was dismissed. The Spanish FA promptly issued a statement claiming Rubiales “did not lie”, supplemented by video footage showing images of Hermoso’s apparent lifting of his feet off the ground. Talk about an organization that is showing full symptoms of extreme dysfunction.

What particularly worries me is Uefa’s inaction. She rejected the federation’s request to ban him from international competitions because the government had interfered in calls for Rubiales to be removed from office. However, why isn’t she investigating the behavior of one of her vice presidents? The European governing body may claim that this is a Fifa matter and that it doesn’t want to offend them, but they just can’t.

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Uefa should be involved. Apart from the fact that Spanish players have told me that there have been serious problems behind the scenes regarding the women’s team for years, there is a similar dismissive attitude towards women players in Europe and beyond. An example of this is the logistical problems faced by countries like Colombia, Nigeria and Jamaica in the run-up to the World Cup. The US team’s long struggle for equal pay reflected a lack of appreciation for a national team infinitely more successful than their male counterparts.

Too many national federations do not create an atmosphere where potential wrongdoing is properly questioned and players feel comfortable raising concerns. Check out the Football Association’s initial failure to conduct a properly independent investigation into Eniola Aluko’s complaints against former national team manager Mark Sampson.

In my experience, issues of sexism, racism and homophobia often arise in organizations where there is a lack of diversity at board level. Unfortunately, football not only lacks black leaders, but also older women. The good news is that there are many men in football who value women’s football and treat us as equals.

I’m fortunate to have worked as first-team coach at Bristol City, where Lauren Smith’s side share a fantastic, open training facility with the men’s side and team manager Nigel Pearson and his staff are fantastically welcoming. It is a friendly, harmonious arrangement that encourages ample exchange of ideas; It feels completely normal for male and female footballers to work side by side.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case when powerful, controlling, and unrivaled soccer men underestimate women.

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