Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning actor and part-owner of NWSL club Angel City, has described the actions of the Spain women’s team who won the World Cup as “inspiring” while saying she is saddened at how the Luis Rubiales scandal has played out.
Portman, a longtime advocate for women’s football, said she was disappointed by how Spain’s World Cup triumph in Australia had been overshadowed by Rubiales’ actions and the continual politicising of women’s sport.
Speaking to delegates at the European Clubs’ Association General Assembly in Berlin, Portman said: “I wish the players could just focus on the sport. Unfortunately they have had to be political inherently, as we have seen at the last two World Cups.
“The winners previous to this one, the US, were fighting for equal pay at the same time as they were winning the World Cup. This time the Spanish team was fighting against harassment, abuse and assault.
“The resilience of these women to play at the top level whilst being under such unfair and unjust conditions and the ability to be advocates on and off the field is inspiring. I pray for the day they can just be athletes and everything else is fun. For now I find great inspiration from the players.”
Her comments come after the Spain captain Jenni Hermoso filed a criminal complaint against Rubiales, the president of the Spanish football federation, accusing him of sexual assault over the unsolicited kiss he gave her after their win in the final. Rubiales has been provisionally suspended by Fifa and ordered to refrain from contact with Hermoso, after initially denying any wrongdoing, before issuing an apology that was criticised as being half-hearted. He claims the kiss was consensual and is yet to resign his position with the Spanish federation.
The Real Madrid player Dani Carvajal also joined the critics of Rubiales, adding to the joint statement made by La Roja’s male captains Álvaro Morata, César Azpilicueta, Rodri and Marco Asensio, who condemned Rubiales this week.
“I want to make a little reference to the statement we issued yesterday as a group. Our president [Rubiales] was not in line with what a president should be at a celebration,” said Carvajal.
“He had a couple of situations that are not typical of the moment, nor of a president. All of this has created a significant media stir and it is a shame that it has tarnished the title achieved by the ladies. It is a shame that it spoils or overlaps the world title because it is a very important feat for our football. It has not been good for the image of Spanish sport.”
The Spanish prosecutor’s office said Hermoso’s testimony would be processed “as soon as possible” after she was encouraged to file a formal complaint by prosecutors in the country’s top criminal court. According to a recently passed sexual consent law in Spain, Rubiales could face a fine or between one and four years in prison if found guilty of sexual assault.
On Tuesday, the Spanish federation announced that it had dismissed manager Jorge Vilda, who had been a divisive coach despite guiding the team to World Cup glory in Australia. Vilda’s position had become seemingly untenable, with most of his coaching staff resigning and 81 footballers refusing to play for the national team amid the Rubiales fallout.
On Thursday it also emerged that players in Liga F, the top tier of women’s football in Spain, would strike for the first two games of the season over pay and conditions. The Spanish Players’ Association said the walk-out was planned as a “fair” deal could not be reached.