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In Spain, there's a reckoning over sexism and women's sports

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now to Spain, where there is a reckoning over sexism and women's sports.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. Prosecutors there are investigating the head of Spain's soccer federation after he forcibly kissed one of the country's top women's soccer players.

MARTIN: NPR's Laurel Wamsley has been following the story and she is with us now. Good morning.

LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK. So for people who didn't catch this, this started just after Spain's team made history and won its first ever Women's World Cup. Take it from there. What happened next?

WAMSLEY: Well, during the medal ceremony, Spain's Football Federation chief, Luis Rubiales, was congratulating the player, Jenni Hermoso. He pulls her into this tight hug and then grabs her head with his hands and kisses her on the mouth. All of this was broadcast live around the world. Video also showed him making a crotch grabbing gesture after Spain won as he stood in the dignitaries' box just a few feet away from the queen of Spain. The criticism was immediate, and Rubiales claimed the kiss was mutual, that he asked Hermoso for a little kiss and she said yes. But Hermoso says that conversation never happened. She never consented, and she did not like it. She said in a statement that she was vulnerable and the victim of a sexist act.

MARTIN: I have to say I saw this myself when I was watching the end of the match, and I just had a hard time believing what I was seeing. All right. So what has been the fallout?

WAMSLEY: Well, Rubiales still has a job, but it is extremely tenuous. Many thought he would resign last week at an emergency meeting of Spain's soccer federation, but he refused to. The entire Spanish team that just won the World Cup, plus another 50 players, put out a statement saying they will not play for Spain until Rubiales is out. FIFA, meanwhile, has suspended him pending an investigation. And then the government of Spain is working on multiple fronts in this case. There's a sports court that could declare Rubiales unfit to hold office, and there's also a separate investigation by federal prosecutors into whether Rubiales has committed a crime of sexual aggression.

MARTIN: Does Rubiales have any support in all this?

WAMSLEY: Not much. Certainly the most vocal of his supporters has been his mother, who announced that she has gone on hunger strike due to what she called the inhumane hounding of her son. And initially it seemed that Rubiales has had a lot of support at the federation. When he gave that speech last week refusing to resign, he was applauded by many in the federation, including the coaches of Spain's men's and women's national teams. But as the backlash has grown, those coaches eventually released statements condemning him. And now Spain's federation itself is calling for him to step down. They're citing unacceptable behaviors that have seriously damaged the image of Spanish football, and they're promising structural reforms. And for the federation, it is crucial to get this issue sorted. The country is bidding to co-host the 2030 World Cup, and their reputation has certainly been tarnished in all of this.

MARTIN: But I have to say that this feels bigger than soccer now. It seems like this has touched a nerve in Spain. Why is that?

WAMSLEY: Absolutely. Gender issues and women's rights have been a big topic in Spain in recent years. They sort of had their own #MeToo movement there, and it's culminated in new laws protecting the right to abortion and women's equality in the workplace. It's also important to note that there was already turmoil in this team even before the World Cup. Last year, 15 of Spain's top players said they would refuse to play for the women's coach, Jorge Vilda. And the players are now saying, see, this is what we were talking about. And it seems many people in Spain are saying, wow, this is bad. This has got to change. Over the last week, hundreds of protesters have gathered in the streets of Madrid. They're waving red cards and calling for Rubiales to resign. And there's a couple of hashtags that have attached themselves to this movement, too. One is #ContigoJenni - we're with you, Jenni - and #SeAcabo - it's over.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Laurel Wamsley. Laurel, thank you.

WAMSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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