Spanish Soccer Scandal: Overshadowing the Women’s Team Win

By: Isabella Miller

Spain won its first Women’s World Cup, hosted by Australia and New Zealand this summer.[1] Unfortunately, this feat has been overshadowed by the incident following the declaration of their victory. The head coach of Spain’s women’s soccer team, Jorge Vilda, has been fired and the president of the country’s soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, has been suspended for 90 days after Rubiales kissed a player on the mouth after the big win.[2] The player, Jennifer Hermoso, the team’s leading goal scorer, is now formally accusing Rubiales of sexual assault.[3] Hermoso described the assault as an impulse-driven and sexist act without her consent.[4]

As the players walked across the stage to receive their medals, each of them was given a hug and kisses on the cheek by Rubiales; however, Jennifer Hermoso was grabbed by the back of her head and forcibly kissed on the mouth by the federation president.[5] Rubiales has been criticized internationally for his actions by many, including Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s acting prime minister, who called the gesture unacceptable.[6] After the game, Hermoso was featured on a live stream in the locker room and stated that she did not like what happened, but did not know what to do.[7] Rubiales claimed the kiss was one like he would give a daughter; however, her fans and supporters publicly disagreed with him.[8]

A statement sent by the federation to the Spanish news agency EFE claimed that Hermoso called the gesture mutual and spontaneous and claimed it was a natural gesture of affection; but Relevo, another Spanish news agency, reported Hermoso never wrote nor said that.[9] Soon after the incident became controversy, the federation released a video of Rubiales allegedly making an apology where he described his behavior as spontaneous and without any bad intention.[10] He further stated, “I have to apologize, there is no other option, right?” [11] FIFA suspended Rubiales for 90 days as they conducted an investigation, and Pedro Rocha stepped in as president.[12]

The team’s coach, Jorge Vilda, was fired by Rocha shortly after the event, amidst his support for Rubiales’ refusal to resign.[13] In 2022, Vilda refused to step down when 15 of his players called for his resignation based on his treatment and methods of coaching.[14] The players wrote their complaints in letters to the federation, and the federation, headed by Rubiales at the time, sided with Vilda.[15] Only three out of those 15 players actually played in the 2023 World Cup.[16]

The Spanish government does not have the power to demand that Rubiales be indefinitely suspended as president of the federation; however, they can pursue legal consequences. [17] Following the complaint of Jenni Hermoso, the attorney general of Spain issued a formal complaint accusing the president of sexual assault and coercion when he grabbed Hermoso’s head with two hands to kiss her and then pressured her to publicly justify his actions. [18] On August 28, 2023, Spain’s High Court prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation into whether he committed any act of sexual aggression.[19] The Spanish National High Court will have jurisdiction, and according to Spain’s penal code, the charges against Rubiales are punishable by between one and four years in prison for sexual assault and up to three years for the coercion; both of which could be limited to a fine. [20] After an immense amount of backlash and public pressure, Rubiales quit his position as the president of Spain’s football federation. [21]

Some may argue that kissing is a cultural way of greeting and celebrating in Spanish traditions,[22] but in 2022, Spain passed legislation about consent, which is coined by some as Spain’s “Me Too movement”.[23] This legislation requires sexual consent to be entirely explicit and unassumed, being nicknamed the “only yes means yes” law.[24] While culture may be prevalent in celebration, such as the warm embrace and cheek kisses Rubiales presented to the other players, a forcible kiss on the mouth is not an appropriate behavior. Former soccer players, such as Joannah Lohman, feel as though soccer and women’s sports need to work on protecting their female athletes and describes the life of a woman in soccer as “swimming in misogynistic and sexist waters.”[25] In light of recent events and movements, we can hope that legislation and organizations will continue to take steps to make sports a safe space for women to excel without sexual abuse.

[1] FIFA, (Aug. 20, 2023), [].

[2] NewsNation, Coach of Spain’s women’s soccer team fired after victory celebration kiss| Morning in America, Youtube (Sept. 6, 2023), [].

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] FOX Soccer, Spain hoists the trophy after winning the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, Youtube (Aug. 20, 2023), [].

[6] Laurel Wamsley, Anger in Spain after soccer chief kisses a player at Women’s World Cup ceremony, npr, (Aug. 23, 2023, 1:39 PM ET), [].

[7] Id.

[8] Joseph Wilson, Rubiales resigns as Spain’s soccer president 3 weeks afer kissing player at Woman’s World Cup final, AP News, [] (Last updated Sept. 10, 2023, 6:17 PM).

[9] Wamsley, supra note 6.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Camilla Alcini, Spain’s Women’s soccer coach fired amid kiss controversy, abc news, (Sept. 5, 2023, 1:40 PM), [].

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Wamsley, supra note 6.

[17] Beatriz Rios, Spanish prosecutor accuses Luis Rubiales of coercion, sexual assault, The Washington Post, (Sept. 6, 2023, 1:08 PM), [] (Last updated Sept. 8, 2023, 10:28 AM).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Rodrigo Orihuela, Disgraced Head of Spanish Soccer Luis Rubiales Finally Resigns After World Cup Kiss Scandal, Time, (Sept. 11, 2023, 3:45 AM), [].

[22] NewsNation, supra note 2.

[23] Id.

[24] Andrew Jeong, Under Spain’s new sexual consent law, only yes is yes, The Washington Post, (Aug. 26, 2022, 4:51 AM), [].

[25] NewsNation, supra note 2.