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  • Writer's pictureEmma Spisak

The Battle for Respect and Equality Intensifies Following Spain’s Historic World Cup Title Win

Updated: Jan 13

Despite winning their first Women’s World Cup title in August, Spain’s women’s soccer team continues to battle for respect and equality against those who are supposed to be their fiercest allies and advocates.


The team’s euphoria from the World Cup victory quickly diminished when Luis Rubiales, President of Spain’s soccer federation, forcibly kissed star player Jenni Hermoso during the post-win celebration.[2] The incident sparked outrage from the players and their supporters around the world.[3] Even so, Rubiales refused to apologize.[4] This prompted soccer’s worldwide ruling body, FIFA, to intervene and suspend Rubiales for ninety days pending an investigation.[5]


The inappropriate actions of Rubiales represent just part of the battle for respect and equality that the team has faced over the past few years. Disputes over pay, resources, and an ongoing battle with former head coach Jorge Vilda culminated in a players’ strike days before the club season was set to begin this past September.[6]


I. A Timeline of the Team’s Off-Field Strife


In September 2022, fifteen members of the senior squad sent personally signed letters to Spain’s soccer federation (“RFEF”) calling for wholesale changes to the coaching staff and threatening to forgo playing for the national team.[7] Players identified a negative impact on their health and emotional state due to the actions of Vilda, and as a result, they wished to not be called upon to play on the national team until “the situation [was] resolved.”[8]


In late September 2022, RFEF responded that “it [was] not going to allow the footballers to keep questioning the role of [its] national manager and his backroom staff.”[9] It also stated that it was “not going to submit to any sort of pressure.” [10] Rubiales and the federation backed Vilda and criticized those who protested. Of the fifteen players who submitted letters, only three remained on the World Cup squad for the 2023 tournament.[11]


Throughout the 2023 World Cup tournament, attention remained focused on the dispute. Reports circulated that players seemed to go out of their way to avoid Vilda.[12] Notably, after the championship game, none of the players hugged him and he faced disapproval from the crowd.[13]

Following the post-tournament fall-out resulting from from Rubiales’ kiss, many members of Vilda’s coaching staff (not including Vilda) quit in support of Hermoso and the team.[14] On September 5, 2023, ten days after FIFA suspended Rubiales, RFEF finally acted in support of the players and fired Vilda.[15]


Additionally, the players union, Futpro, announced that if working conditions did not improve considerably before the start of the new club season, the women would not play.[16] Negotiations between the league and the union had spanned eleven months without any progress. [17]


On September 14, 2023, the players called off the strike, finally reaching an agreement to increase minimum wage.[18] The minimum salary for women’s league players was previously €16,000 compared to €182,000 for men's league players.[19] The new deal increases the minimum wage for the women's league to €21,000 this season, and again to €23,500 by 2025.[20] It may increase more depending on revenue, a small victory in this ongoing war.[21]


II. Growing the Game


After the U.S. Women’s National Team reached a landmark equal pay agreement in February 2022, a vision of “what could be” was modeled for all women’s sports teams around the world. Although the opportunity may have come earlier for the U.S. thanks to Title IX legislation and consistent dominant performances, the door is now wide open for other female athletes to pursue the fight for equality.


As the 2023 world champions, Spain’s women's team proved they deserve higher pay and better resources. To sustain their dominance, Spain needs support to compete with the best. This presents a chicken-and-egg problem, however, as success is typically rewarded with better resources, while at the same time quality resources are necesssary to breeding success.


The suspension of Rubiales and the firing of Vilda are both steps in the right direction to helping Spain’s team potentially gain managerial allies to advocate for better resources and supportive legislation.


To further the cause, legislation is needed. United States women’s soccer is among many professional athletic programs that are leveling the playing field with more equitable resources and pay for players and respect from leadership and fans. Title IX federal law has served as a foundation for these changes in the United States, and similar legislation could have a monumental impact on Spain’s women's soccer team.


When Title IX became law in 1972, it was instrumental in breaking down barriers in the U.S.[22] Title IX banned sex discrimination in education, giving generations of girls the promise of access to sports and other educational programs.[23] School administrators saw adding soccer programs as a cost-effective way to comply with the law, and with the raise in opportunity and interest, youth leagues began to swell.[24] As millions of U.S. women benefited from increases in opportunity and rescources, the best of them gave rise to a U.S. women’s national program that has dominated on the world stage.[25]


Consistent, equity-informed leadership from team management and RFEF must be in place to change the culture of this program and to make space for the necessary change prior to or commensurate with legislation.

References: [2] Sarah Hurtes, Spain’s Female Soccer Players Strike Over Wage Dispute, NEW YORK TIMES (Sept 7, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/07/world/europe/spain-women-soccer-strike.html. [3] Bill Saporito, Spanish Soccer Is In Chaos. The U.S. Women’s Team Deserves Some Credit, WASHINGTON POST (Sept 5, 2023), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/09/05/spain-kiss-soccer-us-womens-team/. [4] Id. [5] Id. [6] Hurtes, supra note 2. [7] Martias Grez, Spain’s Women Make History At the Women’s World Cup Against a Backdrop of Turmoil and Dispute, CNN (Aug. 19, 2023), https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/19/football/womens-world-cup-spain-dispute-jorge-vilda-rfef-spt-intl/index.html. [8] Id. [9] Id. [10] Id. [11] Id. [12] Id. [13] Id. [14] Saporito, supra note 3. [15] Fernando Kallas, Spain fire Vilda as women’s team coach, name assistant as replacement, REUTERS (Sept. 5, 2023), https://www.reuters.com/sports/soccer/spanish-womens-soccer-team-coach-jorge-vilda-fired-after-kiss-furore-2023-09-05/. [16] Hurtes, supra note 2. [17] Id. [18] The Associated Press, Spain’s Women’s Soccer League Players Call Off Strike After Reaching a Deal For Higher Minimum Wage, ABC NEWS (Sept. 14, 2023), https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/spains-womens-soccer-league-players-call-off-strike-103179135#:~:text=MADRID%20%2D%2D%20The%20players%20in,league%20and%20unions%20said%20Thursday. [19] Id. [20] Id. [21] Id. [22] Alexandra Petri, Once an ’Easy Way Out’ For Eqaulity, Women’s Soccer Is Now a U.S. Force, NEW YORK TIMES (June 27, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/27/sports/soccer/title-ix-soccer.html. [23] Id. [24] Id. [25] Id.

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