The Rubiales affair and why it matters

The aftermath of the World Cup Final in Spain has been front page news for days. For some it is overblown, but for others it is symptomatic of underlying power issues that are still firmly weighted against women at work.

Graphic showing women playing football

 

The weekend news was taken over by the Spanish football fiasco. In our house it’s an even bigger issue as my partner is Spanish [Catalan] and he’s had the Spanish coverage on round the clock. He is very angry that more male players have not come out in support for  their female colleagues and faster and is absolutely ashamed of the behaviour of the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales.

He keeps filling me in on the background. Rubiales’ behaviour at the World Cup final is just the tip of the iceberg and it’s all part of the ongoing struggle for the future of Spain. He has been horrified by the rise of the far-right party Vox, for instance, in recent years, bringing back memories of fascism. Vox advocates among other things that gender-based violence doesn’t exist. The party didn’t do as well as feared in the last election, but it still remains a worrying threat and influence.

So the football question is about much more than one macho man in power. It’s about power generally, about equality and about who gets respect and who doesn’t. Just in football terms, there have also been concerns about the treatment of black players in Spain for some years.

We seem to be navigating a difficult path in so many countries between protests for equality and virulent backlash, spurred on by teetering economics. It’s a dangerous place to be.

I read an article on Argentina’s potential new president over the weekend, Javier Milei. I have relatives in Argentina. If he gets in all bets are off. Milei, a tv sex coach who advocates threesomes,  trolls the Pope who he thinks is a communist, rails against ‘social justice’ and wants to ditch the public health and education system, dollarise the economy, shut down the Ministry of Women, allow everyone to buy arms and round up anyone who protests. Oh, and he also thinks climate change is a lie. He’s apparently being backed by lots of angry young men, who have lived for years with Argentina’s febrile economy and are fed up with the usual political parties. It’s so easy in this climate to blame someone else for the problems you find yourself in, usually the very people who have most suffered as a result. It’s scary stuff, though, and shows how crucial asylum laws are and how we should be upholding them now more than ever.

But back to Rubiales. There have been people over the weekend saying it was just a kiss, what’s the big fuss about. They don’t see the heavy underbelly. They haven’t been reading the room. Not just of the treatment of female players [and by extension women in the workplace generally]. They don’t see the threatening nature of proposing legal action against someone for saying something we could all see with our own eyes [namely, that she didn’t consent. What does he even think consent is?], the assumption behind that that all the institutions – his employer, the legal system, everything – supports his right to treat women as his personal chattels. How many women have faced work-related or other injustice and can identify in some way with the idea that the system is often stacked against them?

Spain should be celebrating their win in the World Cup as women’s football comes of age. Instead we are mired in this grubby discussion about a macho nobody. It would be good to say that Rubiales’ behaviour belongs in the past, has no place in the present, but that would be to misunderstand that, unfortunately, human rights such as the right to equality are never done and dusted, that past, present and future are all contained in every single moment, that the world is shape shifting on an ongoing basis and that those who have traditionally been denied power constantly need to be vigilant, regroup and fight for the right to equal respect.



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