'Luis Rubiales is not only a misogynist. He's a symbol of a much bigger problem in women's sport.'

By now, you will likely have heard the name, Luis Rubiales.

The President of the Spanish Football Federation responsible for the incredible women's National Team that won the recent FIFA World Cup on Australian soil, Rubiales has hit global headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Or perhaps, the right reasons for those interested in genuine gender equality in global sport.

Rubiales used the post-match medal ceremony to demonstrate to the half a billion people watching the Final, and literally the entire world, the way in which much of male-dominated sport sees women, and female athletes, as something to manipulate, use for their own careers and public promotion and then blame the women for enabling or supporting their abusive, controlling and too often unseen violations. These have come to light in recent years across Australian swimming and gymnastics, US gymnastics, a major scandal of abuse in US women's soccer and Matildas legend, Lisa De Vanna also alleges sexual abuse as a young international player. In Lisa's case, the game's response has been disgracefully defensive and framing Lisa as the problem.

Rather than simply hand the athletes their medals, Rubiales used the moment of the Spanish players' greatest triumph and elation to use them through a display of power and privilege that screamed, 'I am in control of these women and can interact with them in any way I please.'

Read more: Spain's football chief kissed a player without consent. Now his mother refuses to eat.

Women in sport, and, of course, across all fields of life, know that circumstance too well.

He hugged and kissed them, pulled them close, made himself the focus of their extraordinary work, even violating a player, Jenni Hermoso with a non-consensual kiss on the lips. He later would enter the women's change room and joke about a 'marriage' between him and her.


Watch: FIFA suspends Rubiales from "all football-related activities at national and international level" for 90 days. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC News.

The details of the case are sprayed across the public domain with much predictable commentary about Rubiales just showing affection, and how women are making too much of the violation, which tells you everything about the impact on Hermoso, who should be remembered for being one of the standout players of the World Cup.

She is now subject of countless articles and opinions, a legal case from the Spanish Federation and Rubiales is suspended by FIFA for 90 days pending an investigation, such as FIFA is capable of, into his conduct.

But it will suit FIFA, and their member Federations of Spain and the confederation (group of Federations) of Europe, known as UEFA to keep this about one man's behaviour. Rather, it is about the abject lack of access to power and decision making of women across global football, and the misogynistic culture that no one wants to talk about. Certainly not the men in power across the game.


FIFA statutes obligate the organisation under s2 Objectives of FIFA, 'to promote the development of women's football and the full participation of women at all levels of football governance.' Further, Confederations like UEFA are urged under s23 (b) to prohibit all forms of discrimination. And under s4 Human Rights, the obligation on FIFA to protect everyone in the game from any form of discrimination on the grounds of gender is very clear.

And yet, gender discrimination is at the very heart of the game.

Regulations for election to the 37 strong FIFA Council states that 'at least' one woman per Confederation must be elected, which is why only one woman from each Confederation is elected, from six. A total of six women out of 37 on the FIFA Council is completely contrary to the non-discrimination duty. And plays a major role in the culture of sexism, abuse, harassment, wage theft, slow progress towards equality and other violations against women that were highlighted during the FIFA World Cup by Jamaican, Colombian, Spanish, Canadian and Nigerian athletes.

UEFA has just three women out of 24. Spain is also massively underrepresented, unsurprisingly. All of this creates a culture where FIFA President, Gianni Infantino can say that 'women can convince us men' of the merits of investing in women’s football, as though his obligation to uphold FIFA's guiding is voluntary.

Over 80 courageous female professional and international players have refused to play for Spain until Rubiales resigns or is relieved of all positions in football and support has been overwhelming from female players everywhere, from US star Alex Morgan, the entire Lionesses of England, and Steph Catley of Australia.


But the question remains, where are the men? Several former Spanish legends, Iker Casillas and Andres Iniesta have spoken out, largely around how embarrassing the issue is for Spanish football, and the male National Coach has issued a strong statement, but the video of Rubiales refusing to resign at the recent Spanish Federation meeting had scores of men spinelessly clapping away. Leaving the heavy lifting to women.

Power in football resides with men, particularly the players. If the Spanish male team refused to play, the case would be closed immediately, and a line drawn about conduct towards women. As yet, they are overwhelmingly silent.


As Australia now knows, the Matildas went on strike in 2015 for basic conditions. I had the pleasure of leading a governance review the following year, in 2016 as Chairman of the player's association, that changed the statutes of the PFA to give equal membership status to women and place Matildas and female professional players on the Executive Committee for the first time.

To give direct access to decision making.

Through the outstanding management of others, just several years later, the Matildas and Socceroos announced a world leading equal pay agreement, certainly one of the factors in Australia being seen as a safe pair of hands for a women’s World Cup wanting to be seen to be progressing in this area.

But how far can football, and global sport progress without equal access at governance level?

Not far enough. Nor can women be provided with safety and protections by the world's largest sport until a culture change is undergone, led by women, from the top.

Rubiales is not only a misogynist and gaslighter using women to maintain his power and privilege, he is a symbol of the lack of a female voice at the highest levels, and it is this that must change.

He should go. Absolutely.

But that's only the start. Women must also be given the chance to rise.

Feature Image: Getty.

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