The Women’s World Cup witnessed an unsettling incident as Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation, planted a kiss on the lips of team captain Jennifer Hermoso. This overt display sparked a wave of controversy and prompted American soccer star Megan Rapinoe to speak out, shedding light on the entrenched sexism and misogyny the Spanish women’s national team has been grappling with.
The incident unfolded during the medal ceremony following Spain’s victory in its first Women’s World Cup title. The incident, captured on video, drew swift backlash for its inappropriate nature and disrespectful implications. Reflecting on this episode, Rapinoe expressed her dismay at the enduring gender bias that the Spanish women’s team had to bear, particularly given the challenges they’ve faced, such as players who previously protested against mistreatment by their coach and federation.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Rapinoe shared, “It made me think about how much we are required to endure. Think how much that Spanish team had to shoulder: Some of the players who stood up way back last year [to protest poor treatment by their coach and federation] still aren’t on the team. Maybe that was something that galvanized them, but you shouldn’t have to have that.”
Rapinoe drew attention to another image, captured at the final whistle of the tournament, where Rubiales was seen grabbing his crotch—an action emblematic of the deep-seated sexism and misogyny within the federation. She expressed disbelief at the environment in which such incidents occur, especially on such a grand stage.
Rubiales eventually issued an apology for his actions, asserting that the kiss was not intended with malice. “I made a mistake, for sure,” Rubiales acknowledged. “I have to accept it. In a moment of such emotion, without any bad intention or bad faith, what happened, happened, in a very spontaneous way. [There was] no bad faith from either side.” This apology followed Rubiales initially defending himself in an interview with Radio MARCA, where he dismissed the incident as a minor display of affection.
Rubiales’ actions were condemned not only by the sports community but also by Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, and minister of culture and sport, Miquel Iceta. Their collective denouncement underscored the inappropriate nature of the incident and its implications.
Megan Rapinoe, known as one of the most prominent figures in women’s soccer worldwide, announced her intention to retire from the sport following the World Cup. However, the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) suffered an unexpected exit in the Round of 16 with a 5-4 penalty shootout loss to the Netherlands. Rapinoe, who missed a crucial kick during the shootout, faced criticism for the team’s untimely elimination.
Addressing the criticism, Rapinoe expressed her steadfast determination to face high-stakes moments, stating, “For a long time, I have thought about missing one in a really big moment. What are you going to do? The only other thing you could do is to not take one. I’m not going to do that. I would rather step up and be in that moment.”
Rapinoe criticized the backlash as disingenuous and unfounded, highlighting the absurdity of being chastised for giving her best effort on the field. Her words exemplify her resilience in the face of adversity, not only as an athlete but also as an advocate for gender equality and social justice in sports.