Laura Marqués has never been interested in soccer. He doesn’t watch Spanish league games or know the names of the players. She didn’t even watch the Spanish women’s team win the World Cup final this month. But after the president of Spain’s soccer federation forcefully kisses one of the players at the medals ceremony, sparking an important national debate about feminism, equality and abuse, all he can think about is soccer .
“We talked a lot about soccer this week,” said Ms. Marqués, a 26-year-old lawyer, as he walks through downtown Zaragoza with a friend. He said he considered the unwanted kiss a common act of casual aggression, an abuse of an authority figure and a shameful loss of women’s moment of glory by the stubborn, if fading, culture of machismo, the often-ingrained sense of masculine pride and entitlement.
“Everything that happened showed what the players have been complaining about for a long time, and nobody believed how serious it was,” he said. “The straw broke the camel’s back.”
The celebratory, nonconsensual kiss on the lips that Luis Rubiales, the president of Spain’s soccer federation, pressed on Jennifer Hermoso, one of the team’s star players, became part of a generational and cultural fault line between deep traditions. of machismo and the recent ones. progressivism that placed Spain at the forefront of European issues of feminism and equality. Some commentators have called it Spain’s #MeToo moment.
On Monday, Spanish prosecutors said they had opened a preliminary investigation into whether Mr. Rubiales, 46, could be charged with committing a crime that could constitute sexual assault. The group he leads, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, has called on him to resign. In a statement after an hours-long meeting on Monday to discuss the issue, it cited “unacceptable behaviors that have seriously damaged the image of Spanish football.”
Against the politically charged background of recent Spanish elections that largely rejected the nostalgic and anti-gender identity politics of the chauvinistic far right, Spain’s establishment is clearly choosing sides. Leading politicians on the left and right, the country’s cultural leaders and even growing voices from within the machismo culture of Spanish soccer have rallied to support Ms. Hermoso — who said he felt like a “victim of aggression” after a no-deal. and sexist act — and to condemn Mr. Rubiales, who objected to “false feminism,” described himself as the victim of a “social assassination” and insisted Ms. Hermoso initiated the exchange.
“What happened last week is an epochal moment that will have important effects,” said Máriam Martínez-Bascuñán, a professor of political sciences at the Autonomous University of Madrid. She said the immediate condemnation of Mr. Rubiales — even by members of Spain’s main conservative party — reflected how far the country’s feminist movement had come. He noted that in the past 20 years, Spain has been a pioneer in gender and equality legislation.
In 2004, it recognized domestic violence as outright gender-based violence, and in 2022, after a horrific gang rape, the government passed legislation classifying any non-consensual sex as rape
The backlash to Mr. Rubiales’ kiss, said Ms. Martínez-Bascuñán, has shown that the country has no intention of backing down.
said Ms. Martínez-Bascuñán said the incident presented “a wonderful opportunity” for Spain’s feminists and progressives to reveal and change sexism in even the most male-dominated institutions. He said there is a “generational and gender-based” fault line, but most Spaniards understand why kissing is inappropriate, and those who don’t “are not the majority.”
In fact, the condemnation of the kiss, videos and images that spread on Spanish social media and in the country’s newspapers and television, came from different political spheres.
Pedro Sánchez, the country’s acting prime minister and leader of the Socialist party who bet big, and successfully, on his own record of progressive and feminist protests in last month’s elections, said the kiss was “not acceptable” and the subsequent apology of Mr. Rubiales is “not good enough.”
Irene Montero, the acting minister of equality, described the kiss as “sexual violence,” a statement that prompted Mr. Rubiales to threaten to sue him and other left-wing politicians for defamation.
Cuca Gamarra, the secretary of the conservative People’s Party, described the kiss as “shameful.” Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the Madrid region, widely seen as a potential conservative prime minister, called it “disgraceful.” An editorial published Saturday in La Razón, a conservative newspaper, described the episode as a “national monstrosity,” and said the progressivism of Mr. Sánchez’s government had created an environment that allowed Mr. Rubiales and the her “vulgar and inappropriate behavior at the Women’s World Cup Final.”
The far-right Vox party, which crashed in the election after laws against gender-based violence were portrayed as biased against men, remained silent.
But Spanish society erupted, seizing the incident as a major moment of reckoning for its clubby and often sexist soccer culture. More than a dozen female players rebelled last year, long frustrated by unequal pay; what they consider to be the overly harsh and controlling treatment of their current coach, Jorge Vilda, including allegations that he raided their personal belongings; and a general culture of sexism.
Many were kicked from the team and missed the World Cup, but one of those players, Lola Gallardo, told El País newspaper on Monday that the pain of losing glory was worth it. “Ideas come before a medal,” he said.
The entire team and dozens of other players signed a joint statement Friday night saying they would not take the field to play for Spain “if the current managers continue.”
On Saturday, several members of the team’s coaching staff resigned, condemning Mr. Rubiales’ defensive response to the incident. Two of the women who signed the resignation letter sat in the front row at a news conference Friday where Mr. Rubiales announced he would not step down. Later, they said they were told to sit there in a forced show of support, but did not say who.
The players are looking to end the days of machismo in Spanish soccer, and seal it with a kiss from Mr. Rubiales.
“It’s over,” Alexia Putellas, a star player, wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, expressing solidarity with Ms. Beautiful. In a Spanish league match in Seville on Sunday night, home players took to the field wearing shirts that read “It’s over.” The crowd roared in approval and shouted calls for Mr. Rubiales’ resignation and for the federation to be rid of corruption.
On Friday, Misa Rodríguez, a player on the national team, posted on social media a cartoon of a little girl asking her grandmother to tell her how the team won the World Cup. “We’re not the only ones who won the World Cup, little one,” answered the grandmother. “We still have a lot to win.”
Lola Índigo, a Spanish singer, stopped a concert in Marbella to express anger at the men who gave Mr. Rubiales a standing ovation after his speech on Friday.
But while condemnation of Mr. Rubiales has been almost unanimous in politics, the media and public life, there remain across Spain those who wonder whether the incident was as bad as it was made out to be, or whether Mr. Rubiales’ lips were too thin to hang a movement.
“If they want to fire him for what he did then, they should, but the kiss is nonsense,” said Beatriz Pena, a 55-year-old soccer fan shopping for her grandson at her local soccer store team. “It’s not sexual harassment or anything.”
Oscar Duarte, 48, bought a soccer shirt for his son on Monday, the same day Mr. Rubiales’ mother locked herself in a church and began a hunger strike to protest what she considered a witch hunt of her own son. Mr. Duarte said they made sure his daughter supported the women’s team, watching the games and cheering the players’ victory in the final match.
Like many Spaniards, Mr. Duarte was concerned that Mr. Rubiales touched his crotch around the Spanish queen and princess during the victory celebration, but said he saw nothing wrong with the kiss.
“It’s like a kiss I could give to a friend,” he said, adding that it was “just a gesture of love.”
But on Monday, Spanish prosecutors began looking into whether it was more than that.