As we observe the scorching international bin fire that is the Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales’s self-inflicted catastrophe, there is the key issue of the missing apology flickering in the flames.
An apology from Rubiales, that is (just to be clear). An instant calm, sincere mea culpa for becoming overexcited in the moment of the Spanish women’s football team’s World Cup victory and forcefully kissing star player Jenni Hermoso on the lips. Thus, at the very least, behaving entirely inappropriately towards a female athlete, and in front of a global audience.
Instead, there is this excruciating, ever-escalating debacle. Rubiales responding to the outcry by spouting about “false feminists” and “witch hunts”. Hermoso saying the kiss made her feel “vulnerable and the victim of an aggression” and that she was coerced into making a statement saying it was consensual.
The federation supporting Rubiales and threatening to sue the 79 female football players who have refused to play for their country if Rubiales retains his position (the women are supported by some male players from the national Spanish team).
This represents a pivotal point not only for this scandal, but sexual politics in sport as a whole. Sportswomen are not dolls. They are there to play sport, not to be kissed, touched, or otherwise sexualised, patronised and fetishised in what is still a predominantly male-dominated sphere.
Would Rubiales have bestowed kisses upon a male football player? If not, why did he feel entitled to embrace Hermoso? What does he even mean by “false feminists”? Have these fantastical harpies been conjured from the ether to save his own neck, or does he truly believe he is the tragic male victim of a sports-themed culture war?
This is why I wondered about the missing apology. Not because it would have (or should have) made the incident go away, but because, here in the supposedly enlightened 21st century, when things are supposed to be better, its absence speaks chauvinistic volumes.
This didn’t happen out of sight. Yet, witnessed by a vast global audience, Rubiales still felt entitled to double down, gather support (from the federation), and intimidate (threaten legal action).
All of which could be described as strongman tactics, which in turn provoked a “strong woman” response. All power to the Spanish women’s football team. Just in terms of sexual politics, Luis Rubiales and the Spanish football federation have scored a calamitous own goal.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist