And so he shuffles out – stage left – tail between his legs. The disgraced Spanish FA president, Luis Rubiales, appears to have finally conceded he was in the wrong (to Piers Morgan, of all people) and has resigned, saying “I cannot continue my work”. It seems it was never “just a kiss” after all.
There’s no need to tell Spanish forward Jenni Hermoso that. She knows only too well that the incident which took place at the World Cup Final, three weeks ago, was non-consensual. She’s said that from the start. Yet she’s been branded a “liar”, has been threatened with being sued – even blamed for Rubiales’ mother’s hunger strike in a church in Spain. Welcome to being a woman in football.
Last Tuesday, Hermoso filed a legal complaint against Rubiales, which the prosecutor’s office said could lead to a fine or even imprisonment if he is found guilty of sexual assault. Yet despite also stepping down as one of Uefa’s vice presidents, Rubiales has maintained throughout that the kiss was “mutual” and “consensual” (but did add that he had made “some obvious mistakes” in recent weeks).
It certainly feels like this was unlikely to end any other way. The intense media and public scrutiny, alongside a growing “me too-esque” movement in Spain, meant it would have required a gargantuan PR undertaking to turn this horror story around for Rubiales. I work in PR: I know how difficult that task would be. That’s if he would even take the advice of a reputational advisor. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem like he’s been listening to anyone.
Defiant to the last, Rubiales’ statement was almost Shakespearean in its fall-upon-thy-sword language, culminating in a rousing call for sexual equality. Yes, equality! “In the name of feminism,” Rubiales writes “it must not be about trying to sink a man – or a woman – without fair trial”.
Poppycock (as Shakespeare might also say). Please pass the tiny violin.
Maybe the real reason it’s taken him three weeks to resign is because he’s been working on his ridiculous statement? Three weeks! In that time we’ve witnessed an entire US Open tennis tournament, two F1 Grand Prix and the opening games of the Rugby World Cup.
What’s he been up to? Why has it taken him so long to do the thing we all knew he’d have to do eventually anyway? And did Rubiales actually think he’d keep his job after all this?
I’d take a wild punt that if this kind of thing had happened to the CEO of a publicly traded company – with shareholders and a board to answer to – I highly doubt this whole affair would have lasted more than 48 hours. Why? Because of one thing: accountability. Something that seems to be seriously lacking in the upper echelons of Spanish football these days. (Indeed, in many football federations, it would seem.)
What finally tipped Rubiales over the precipice and forced his resignation, we may never know. His statement appears to place emphasis on “spurious injustice and public judgment”, coupled with “manipulations, lies and censorship”. It’s not exactly “mea culpa”, is it?
Perhaps his decision came after pressure from colleagues in the Spanish Football Association – though this seems somewhat unlikely. Sat at the apex of Spain’s most important footballing body, this band of brothers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Rubiales from the get-go. Just this week, the coach of the Spanish men’s national team, Luis de la Fuente, was forced to apologise for applauding during a speech in which Rubiales refused to resign.
Perhaps it was his family, then, who he mentions in his statement? His mother? Other female relatives? Or was it, plain and simply, the threat of legal action from Hermoso, which came just a few days before his dramatic resignation? To me, this seems the most likely trigger and could well be the straw that broke the proverbial.
I’ve written before about how tragic it is that the World Cup will now be remembered for this one event. Hermoso has said the kiss left her feeling vulnerable and a victim of aggression. She has described it as an “impulsive, sexist act, out of place and without any type of consent on my part”.
Yet in the most astonishing bad judgment, Rubiales’ statement includes a line which effectively responds to how Hermoso has described how the whole incident made her feel: “I want to send a message to all the good people in our country [...], including those women who’ve really been abused”, he wrote.
Wow. Peppering an “apology” with references to “the truth”, to his “defence” and to “justice” only serves to undercut its sense of authenticity – and that’s putting it lightly.
Rubiales does not appear to be a man who is repenting in any way. He seems to show no real remorse and, as far as I can tell, has not offered a direct apology to Hermoso. He is a true beneficiary of the patriarchal system that props up women’s football.
In my opinion, Rubiales isn’t the victim, here – no matter how much he says he feels he has been the subject of media “lynching”, of brutal public interest, spurious injustice and public judgment.
He may have lost his job, his reputation and any hope of working in football again. But at least he’ll have learnt one thing in this sad, messy saga: what it feels like to be a woman.