The Spanish Football Federation Scandal: Lessons for Workplace Investigations

By:  Emma Johnston

In the wake of the Spanish football federation boss Luis Rubiales’ controversial actions towards player Jenni Hermoso during their World Cup victory celebration, a wave of protests and discussions has emerged, with Spanish women rallying under the slogan “Se Acabo (it’s over).”

Mr. Rubiales, facing allegations and suspension by FIFA, insisted he’s a victim of a “witch hunt” but is under increasing pressure to resign. Hermoso has asserted that she was a “victim of aggression” and never consented to the unwanted kiss. In solidarity, her team and coaching staff refused to return to work until Mr. Rubiales stepped down.  Mr. Rubiales was suspended from his position soon after, then fired after that.

This incident has sparked a growing solidarity movement in Spain, drawing comparisons to global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp. It also offers valuable insights for workplace investigations and highlights why swift, thorough inquiries are essential.

Despite global waves of change ignited by the #MeToo movement in 2017, Spain faced difficulties in constructing a coherent feminist movement. Spanish feminism has been marked by tensions between different generations of feminists, often manifesting as an individualistic, neoliberal approach that hindered collective solidarity.

In recent years, Spain has made significant strides in gender reform. Under the leadership of left-wing Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the government has actively invested in gender equality. Spain now boasts increased female representation in parliament, reduced maternal mortality rates, and innovative measures like “period leave” for female employees. Furthermore, Spain addressed a landmark case known as the ‘wolf pack,’ which led to ‘only yes means yes’ legislation emphasizing the importance of verbal consent.

Despite these advancements, Spain continues to grapple with issues such as workplace inequality, harassment, and domestic violence, which remain deeply ingrained. The Rubiales affair serves as a stark reminder of persistent gender discrimination and hypermasculine behaviors in the country.

The World Cup kiss incident has garnered extensive attention for several reasons. Spain’s international status propelled the debate beyond its borders, and female sports journalists provided extensive coverage. The reforms introduced since the ‘wolf pack’ case send a clear message that Spanish society is evolving, fostering greater public engagement.

Men have also shown solidarity, with #SeAcabo appearing on the jerseys of the Sevilla football team and politicians from Spain to the UN making statements. This contrasts with past incidents where the football federation sided with the coach over players’ concerns.

The Rubiales affair offers valuable lessons for workplace investigations:

  1. Swift and Thorough Inquiries: Prompt investigations into workplace incidents are crucial to prevent further harm and maintain trust within an organization.
  1. Respect for Consent: The incident underscores the significance of consent in all aspects of work relationships. Consent should never be assumed and must be clearly communicated.
  2. Awareness and Solidarity: The power of awareness and collective action cannot be underestimated. Awareness campaigns within workplaces can help empower employees to speak up against misconduct.
  3. Gender Equality: Workplace investigations must contribute to fostering gender equality by addressing issues such as harassment, discrimination, and unequal treatment.