Soccer, often hailed as the beautiful game, has also been branded as the misogynistic game over the years, highlighting a troubling side that has overshadowed the recent Women’s World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand. While the tournament showcased the power and potential of sports for girls and women worldwide, it didn’t take long for a stark reminder of gender inequality and disrespect to emerge within the sport.
Despite the enthusiasm and inspiration generated by the Women’s World Cup, the event was marred by incidents that exposed the underlying gender bias within international soccer. The international sent a strong message of female empowerment, resonating with both genders, yet it was followed by reminders of the sport’s history of neglecting women’s soccer, unequal pay, and an overall lack of concern for the women’s game.
Shockingly, just over 30 minutes after the final whistle, an incident of what was deemed “a form of sexual violence” unfolded during Spain’s celebration. The president of Spain’s soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed Spanish star Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent as she passed through the congratulatory line. Hermoso later expressed her discomfort with the incident.
This incident raised important discussions about consent, with Spanish officials emphasizing that non-consensual actions should not be normalized. The act of forcibly kissing someone without their agreement was categorized as a form of sexual violence that women face daily.
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Rubiales faced further criticism for another incident caught on camera, in which he was seen grabbing his crotch after Spain’s victory over England. These actions were denounced by the world players’ union and sports officials as inappropriate and unacceptable.
While Rubiales still retains his position within the soccer federation, the outrage over his actions calls into question the culture and accountability within the sport. Comparisons are drawn to cases in the United States, where coaches and executives were held responsible and removed from their positions due to revelations of systemic abuse and misconduct within women’s professional soccer.
The Spanish soccer federation’s handling of the situation, including Rubiales’ forced kiss, raised concerns about their approach to gender equality and player well-being. Rather than addressing players’ concerns and fostering a supportive environment, the federation rejected player demands for changes to the coaching staff and instead penalized players by excluding many from the World Cup roster.
Spain’s mishandling of these matters has inadvertently highlighted the importance of timing. The incidents coincided with a surge of interest in women’s soccer, sparked by Spain’s remarkable performance on the field and the subsequent controversies off the field. This turn of events has exposed the sport’s dark underbelly at a time when the world’s attention was drawn to women’s soccer, emphasizing the need for change and gender equality within the sport.
Ultimately, while the Women’s World Cup succeeded in introducing the world to the talent and potential of women in soccer, it also shed light on the work that remains to be done in terms of fair treatment, representation, and respect within the sport.