Luis Rubiales has finally resigned - but this cannot be the end of the matter

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Luis Rubiales has resigned as the president of the RFEF - but there is much more work to be done to defeat sexism in women’s football.

It ended, as all the grubbiest tales do, with Piers Morgan. Quite why Luis Rubiales, who we can finally describe as the former president of the RFEF, chose to announce his extremely belated resignation in an interview with a British media muckraker isn’t immediately obvious, but perhaps he’s trying to raise his profile in the Anglosphere before launching a second career as a social media gob for hire, the natural end point of many careers whose end is self-diagnosed as being caused by ‘cancel culture’. You can’t sexually assault anyone, these days.

But, as the Spanish equality minister Irene Montero put it, “it’s over”. Except, of course, that it shouldn’t be. Rubiales may have become a poster boy for toxic masculinity, but his is not the only hairless head that needs to roll, and misogyny in the Spanish game will not end here.

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Luis Rubiales finally resigned from his presidential role at RFEF, following an outcry at his behaviour toward’s a female Spain international footballer. Luis Rubiales finally resigned from his presidential role at RFEF, following an outcry at his behaviour toward’s a female Spain international footballer.
Luis Rubiales finally resigned from his presidential role at RFEF, following an outcry at his behaviour toward’s a female Spain international footballer. | AFP via Getty Images

For weeks, as Rubiales desperately clung to his position of power, the RFEF stood by him in spite of the overwhelming body of evidence that they had no support beyond Rubiales’ own mother undertaking a hunger strike in her local church. As the entire world told them they were wrong, they continued to back their man – they threatened their own players with legal actions after the women’s team announced that they would no longer play following the World Cup, and vowed to expose Jenni Hermoso’s “lies”.

Was this the work of Rubiales himself, continuing to wield his authority as captain of a sinking ship? Did enough of the (overwhelmingly male) officials who make up the RFEF’s general assembly owe Rubiales their patronage to the extent that they would go down with him? Did he know which cupboards held skeletons? Or was the support a sincere and honest reflection of the opinion of the majority of the sport’s governing body in Spain?

If it is the latter, it would not be surprising. This is the same RFEF who supported now-departed women’s national coach Jorge Vilda through a mutiny during which players alleged controlling and inappropriate behaviour, including refusing to allow players to lock their hotel rooms until he had carried out a personal inspection.

It is the same RFEF who, in 2015, saw Vilda’s predecessor Ignacio Quereda resign after a similar strike by women’s players who alleged even more inappropriate behaviour – hotel rooms were left unlocked, shopping bags checked, younger members of the squad bullied over the weight and told they “needed a man”. Footage emerged of Quereda pinching players’ cheeks and pulling their ears. When he resigned, the RFEF neither condemned him nor said anything about the allegations at all. A 2021 documentary entitled “Breaking the Silence” about the incident did not instigate any change. It took the global attention generated by Rubiales’ kiss on Hermoso to make anything happen at all.

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And only Rubiales’ head has rolled so far. His was the most deserving – it was he who committed the alleged assault, after all – but the entire federation has supported a culture of misogyny for years, if eye witnesses such as former Spain captain Veronica Boquete, who led the 2015 mutiny, are to be believed.

And there is plenty of reason to believe it, given the sight of male members of Spanish football’s upper echelons (including the men’s and women’s national coaches at the time, Luis de la Fuente and Vilda) furiously applauding Rubiales’ infamous “I will not resign” speech three weeks ago. Or the RFEF’s silent shrugs at the chauvinistic antics of others in positions of influence in Spanish football, such at Atlético Madrid president Enrique Cerezo, who once spent part of a filmed interview talking about the reporter’s breasts. Spain has long had a major problem with institutionalised sexism, and there is little evidence to suggest that the RFEF is any different to other powerful agencies on the Iberian peninsula.

So the case cannot be considered closed now that Rubiales is finally gone – given that criminal proceedings for sexual assault are active against him, the case certainly isn’t closed for him personally, but the heads of Rubiales and Vilda on a platter should not be deemed sufficient evidence that the corner has been turned on the problem as a whole. The Spanish sports council has been vocal in its criticism of the RFEF, and FIFA suspended Rubiales swiftly. It is now necessary that they clean house, and sweep up all the old hands who haunt the upper chambers of the Spanish game - although given FIFA’s own failures in the field of equality, perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much from them.

Rubiales’ resignation and the eventual vindication of both Hermoso and everyone who supported her will count for nothing unless the problem is pulled out at the root. The biggest issue was never Rubiales’ actions or his utterly unrepentant apology (stated as being “without reservation” but then followed by a whole slew of caveats) – it was what his actions and the support he received from the RFEF said about the state of the institution as a whole. If the pressure is now released, and authorities consider Rubiales’ resignation the end of the matter, then precious little will change. It didn’t in 2015 with Quereda resigned, and it’s naïve to think that it will now without pressure from the outside.

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So let’s hope that the football world doesn’t consider the matter closed, and that female players in Spain are supported if they continue to refuse to represent their nation. Their next scheduled game is in 11 days’ time, against Sweden in the Women’s Nations League. The RFEF is now faced with an imminent choice – to continue swimming against the tide or to let it sweep them away. Rubiales’ resignation should not be an excuse for the water levels to drop.

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