Words by Allison Havey, Co-Founder, The Rap Project
Two questions offered up by European pundits these past weeks regarding the behaviour of Luis Rubiales, the 46-year-old president of the Spanish football association, resonated with me. The first, “Are people overreacting to Rubiales’ full-on, lip-smacking kiss with soccer player Jenny Hermosa immediately after Spain clinched the Women’s World Club title against England’s Lioness’s?” The other is, “What if he apologised? What if he owned it and explained that he became so overwhelmed with joy by the 1-0 victory that he forgot himself?”
Let’s unpack the first one. By now, everyone who is interested will have looked at the footage and photographs of Hermosa approaching Rubiales during the medal giving ceremony and see his two hands grabbing her head and kissing her on the lips. No one except those in the immediate vicinity could confirm if he asked for her consent, as he maintains. But can you imagine him pausing, then asking, “Hey, Jenny, do you mind if I kiss you on the lips right now?” Really? Hermosa is vehement that he asked her nothing, that the kiss was not consensual. Once again, we are in ‘She said, He said’ divisive situation which helps no one. Rubiales initially made a grudging apology but then pivoted, defiantly saying he would ‘not resign’ several times in a speech to Spain’s Football Federation following the incident. This complete disregard for respecting a woman’s choice, along with his self-pitying attitude that he is a victim of ‘false feminism,’ (whatever that means!), is not the stuff of great leadership.
Rubiales’ position was enough to crack open Pandora’s Box, where testimonies of sexism and misogyny rife throughout Spanish women’s soccer and in its wider society quickly came to the fore. Yes, it is a shame the incredible athletes of ‘La Roja’ could not have basked longer in their well-deserved glory. But what an amazing opportunity to harness the power of celebrity to promote change. This is exactly what these incredible world champions did when they banded together and refused to play in another game until Rubiales was history instead of making it. The runners up, England’s Lionesses, issued a statement shortly afterwards supporting the 33-year-old player. “Unacceptable actions allowed to happen by a sexist and patriarchal organisation,” they wrote. “Abuse is abuse and we have all seen the truth.” FIFPRO and players worldwide are joining in, calling for his immediate resignation.
But what if Rubiales had admitted he was wrong, acknowledging he had crossed the line and would not repeat his disrespectful behaviour? It’s time to mention his crotch-grabbing at the time of the Spanish side’s goal. Not being an expert in the technique, I think it is an alpha-male, disgusting and disrespectful gesture. The European press have mostly focused on the fact he did this while sitting next to the Spanish royal family. Royals aside, I wouldn’t want anyone to witness this foul play, especially vulnerable, impressionable young men and boys.
Rubiales opted to play the victim, rather than the role model he could have been, and admit he behaved badly. FIFA initially suspended him for 90 days. But when Hermosa filed a legal complaint against him for sexual assault and coercion. As a result, after 21 days of controversy. Rubiales resigned.
The Rap Project has informed and continues to inform tens of thousands of young people in over 350 schools worldwide about the legal definitions of sexual offenses, how to break down gender stereotypes, and promote mutual respect, mutual consent, and mutual pleasure. Rap also asks that young people consider they are each a member of a community, be it in a school, on a sports pitch, at a party, etc and to endeavour to be ‘Active Bystanders.’ This is to say we are good citizens, and as long as we feel safe, assist someone who is in a vulnerable situation. Anyone of any gender can be groped, assaulted, and harassed. But if it happens to you, please don’t blame yourself, Move away, get help, and stand up for yourself. Don’t be defeated. Be like Jenny Hermosa. Be like the Active Bystanders supporting her all over the world.