Guillem Balague: Luis Rubiales kiss is ‘a dispute much more than just football’

21 September 2023 0 By Total Football News
Guillem Balague: BBC Sport Column

All but two of Spain's women's footballers have ended their boycott and will represent their country in the two forthcoming matches in the Nations League against Sweden and Switzerland.

In a seven-hour marathon meeting between the players, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and the government's national sports agency representative Victor Francos that ended just before 5am on Wednesday, 21 of the 23 players called up for the Spain squad agreed to play after guarantees from the government that the federation would need to commit to immediate and profound changes in its organisation.

The RFEF has since sacked general secretary Andreu Camps and apologised for what happened after the Women's World Cup final - a month after Spain's historic victory was overshadowed by the federation's president Luis Rubiales kissing forward Jenni Hermoso after the final.

The government has announced it will be putting in writing all the agreements that have been reached. More heads will certainly roll but most importantly the structure of the federation will change, as will the organisation's philosophy, with set-in-stone stipulations that from now on the women's section will be treated the same as the men's.

Well, almost, as financially they are still worlds apart.

The meeting was initiated by Francos, who wanted to speak to the players face to face.

He started by saying he apologised if he had done something wrong, and asked the players to explain to him what their problems were.

What followed was a conversation described as honest and long, and when the summit between Francos and the players concluded there were more meetings between the players and the RFEF.

Players also met new national coach Montse Tome, who has not got their confidence as she is seen as a continuation of previous manager Jorge Vilda's regime, having been his assistant for five years.

She will keep her role for the two immediate games. After that, the FA might have to look for someone else.

But there is still a long way to go before the conflict is over, because this is a dispute that is fundamentally about much more than just football.

While it was a kiss on the lips - which Hermoso said was not consensual, but Rubiales said was - that drove the issue into the stratosphere, it was always merely the straw that broke the camel's back. The real issue was always the unequal treatment they received compared to the men, and the lack of respect they received from all departments of the FA.

Victor Francos, the head of the Spanish government's national sports agency (CSD), answers questionsVictor Francos answered questions from reporters on Wednesday

The Me Too movement was all about pointing out criminal behaviour.

Se Acabo (Enough is Enough), the hashtag used by Alexia Putellas to identify this movement, is about bringing an end to certain behaviours that might or might not be illegal but are certainly unacceptable, and even worse, have become normalised.

Football has always had an uncanny knack of mirroring the society it inhabits.

This movement will now (hopefully) begin to wield an influence over other sections of Spanish society and the patriarchy that permeates throughout all of it, including in the media where, even now, not enough heads are being raised above the parapet in support of the players.

Many are saying words to the effect of "you've made your point, now let's move on". They are wrong, because this is a fight which needs to continue. It is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.

The behaviour of male authority in Spain, not just in football but through all society, has to change.

What has stood out above anything else from this debacle is how appallingly the RFEF handled everything every step of the way. It would be wrong to say it handled the situation badly; it would be more accurate to say it is hard to imagine how it could have handled it any worse.

From the moment Rubiales grabbed his crotch in an inappropriately naff gesture of celebration before planting a kiss on the lips of Hermoso, the floodgates were opened and what followed from the RFEF on a daily basis was a litany of unbridled incompetence designed to defend the indefensible, but which only managed to lose it the moral high ground while also making the players stronger, braver, more resilient and more united every step of the way.

Spain's Olga Carmona and teammates attend a training sessionSpain players returned to training on Wednesday following the end of their boycott

Rubiales was certainly a problem, although far from being the only problem.

When Tome announced her squad at a news conference, she told the media she had spoken to the players and they had agreed to play. The players said afterwards that wasn't true.

When the players said they would not be turning up, the RFEF's immediate reaction was to threaten them with long bans.

This was certainly not a step in the right direction, although it did persuade the footballers the thing to do was travel to the rendezvous to stay within the law, and from there continue the battle.

What is extraordinary is that the government has intervened in this matter and has now told the RFEF - a private institution which accesses the public arena to receive state financial support - to get it right because it has said from the first minute it is with the players.

Key figures in the FA will fall in the next few days - those that were keeping the Rubiales regime alive.

What is concerning, yet once again indicative of much of what is happening in Spanish society, is the deafening silence from Spain's men players.

They have disappeared from the conversation. And why wouldn't they? Spanish male footballers fly first class whenever they go to matches, they have physios on tap whenever they need them, they are comfortable, happy, and rich.

As we know, happy, rich people don't normally spend much time on the barricades.

When the players did come out in 'support' of the women's players it was a half-hearted, mealy-mouthed, head-bowed statement read out by Alvaro Morata, who had the look of a man reading from a script rather than speaking from the heart.

Just a few players (Isco, Hector Bellerin, Borja Iglesias) have actually made a stand, and the remainder - who rarely seem lost for words when making their point on the pitch - were all suddenly afflicted by a shy reticence.

The male players have the power to make things change. Effectively, they were all struck dumb.

In the beginning, the women's players were not always clear in what they wanted, as they preferred to sort things out internally. But that left the door open for a lot of people to ask: "What do you want?"

Now it has all become clear. If someone does not understand what they want, it is because they don't want to.

So, what happens in the immediate future?

Spain will now face Sweden and Switzerland in two games in Nations League fixtures which are effectively play-offs for the next Olympic Games, with the two top teams gaining automatic qualification.

Tome should have resigned, but will not last long in the job. What a lot of the players are asking is why exactly they - as world champions - are being palmed off with an assistant coach rather than the kind of world-class coach their performances merit.

The FA will not talk again of the national side (referring to men's) and omit the women's national side. They are both officially national sides. A committee has been established with players' representatives, the FA and the government.

After that, we'll see.

Hopefully when the government publishes its findings, changes will continue at the RFEF with immediate effect, and the Spanish women's players can finally really enjoy and celebrate their World Cup win.

They should also feel safe in the RFEF headquarters. They do not feel so right now.

And most importantly, perhaps, their triumph will be remembered as much more than just a glorious victory, but also as a seminal point in history and a catalyst for a fundamental, much-needed change in women's rights throughout Spanish society.

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