Rubiales clearly doesn't deserve to lead anything other than an apology parade, but rather than taking swift action to remove him as head of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), there has been a painful, gradual path towards definitive action highlighting the toxicity male-dominated systems, in sport and beyond.
From the outside you think it shouldn't be that hard. Look inside, however, and each lever works as intended. To those in charge, it should be so heavy Rubiales flaunted his misogyny on international television, but the men with the greatest power to do something about it engaged in a lazy relay race of responsibility. The baton has passed from the Spanish Football Federation to FIFA to Spanish federal prosecutors and others, all trying to run through a maze to get to the obvious. It's like they have to go through the five stages of grief before getting rid of a creep.
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What a pathetic exercise. Also what a revelation. If you've ever doubted the toxic ineptitude that perpetuates the mistreatment of women, this transparent controversy illustrates it all. This should have been a 48 hour story. Rubiales should have been granted an indefinite ban within a day and the support of those ‘executives' for the Spain women's team should have been so strong and undeniable that Rubiales resigned under pressure the day after.
While it may take time to issue a formal release without risking legal consequences, the RFEF has no excuse for its inhumane response when initially defending Rubiales. The systemic shame could not have been clearer. Instead of protecting the women who led the nation to football glory, the institution donned a cloak and tried to save Rubiales after he became defiant, refusing to step down and claiming he was the victim of “fake feminism” for his impulsive decision What to give Hermoso he dismissed as a “kiss”.
As hard as it must have been to trump Rubiales' grandiose ignorance, his association pulled off the embarrassing feat after sending out (and later deleting) a statement calling Hermoso a liar and dangerously misrepresenting the concept of consent.
Shortly after the kiss, Hermoso expressed her discomfort. She later added, “I never consented to the kiss he gave me.” The RFEF tried to tell her and everyone else that they were imagining an abusive act.
“The facts are what they are and no matter how many statements are made to distort reality, it is impossible to change what happened,” the organization said in a statement on Saturday. “The summit was spoiled. Consent is given in each case with the respective conditions. Later you can think you made a mistake, but you cannot change the reality.”
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Two days later, the regional presidents of the Football Association called for Rubiales' resignation. Apparently, they finally listened to their own haughty words: “You can't change reality.”
It took that group eight days to do the obvious, and that same day federal prosecutors opened a sexual assault investigation. FIFA only handed Rubiales a 90-day ban six days after the incident. It's not easy to overthrow a football leader, but the reflex to blame a victim comes damn fast.
The game is so rigged, so ridiculous that you don't know whether to laugh or cry. This level of sexism is not limited to football in Spain either. It exists in too many systems around the world. It's not just a disgrace to football or sports culture. This is a dramatic display of the ills of a patriarchal society that has not yet broken. Spain couldn't win their first women's world title without a ruthless man who is more powerful than his character and who becomes crude the next moment. The saga has forced Spain to reckon with sexism, but any male-dominated sector in the world should grapple with these issues nonetheless.
Of course, most will refuse. Decency remains in the hamster wheel.
Rubiales will perish; it is now inevitable. But this will not be a triumph of humanity over the institution. This will happen because the remaining powerful men will sacrifice Rubiales to protect themselves. It's not just bad for business. He's bad for the dynasty. As much as they despise responsibility, if you lose one, the others can still win.
But the public nature of this saga challenges anyone who's been paying attention to be better, smarter, and less prone to scams. Rubiales cannot be considered an aberrational figure. People like him are everywhere except for private abuse. Their game plan is the same: deny, discredit, dodge the consequences. They keep surviving, doing even more damage and making it harder for victims to see the benefits of reporting. Every once in a while, someone may hunt down a sexist, but such people regenerate because sexism is rarely discussed.
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This insane situation provides another opportunity to act instead of expressing outrage and moving to the next step. There have been more harrowing and more enduring examples of sexual abuse and misogyny in sport, and many of these involved predators who terrorized women for years because no one in power had the guts to stop the chaos. These cases had to be pieced together victim by victim and confirmed story by confirmed story because they took place in secret.
Rubiales' action took place in daylight, amidst the celebratory splendor. And male executives still tried to cover it up or evade responsibility. It reinforces the need for a higher level of gender diversity.
Ahead of the World Cup final, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was chauvinistic when he spoke about justice.
“I say to all women that you have the power to change,” he said. “Choose the right battles; Choose the right fights. You have the power to change. They have the power to convince us men what we must and must not do. You do it – just do it. When it comes to men, at FIFA, you find open doors. Just push the doors. You are open.”
These remarks are certainly not material for a Nike ad.
Convince us men, right? Choosing the right battles? It would be far wiser to choose the right leaders and balance their power with effective oversight.
Because men fill these roles, women will not often find open doors. If they do, they would be wise to shut them down quickly because in real time we've witnessed the menace of dangerously powerful men. You cannot change this depressing reality.