This is Not a Man’s World: “Campeonas” Not “Campeones del Mundo” 

Photograph Source: Logo of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – Fair Use

One must get the facts right when addressing systemic problems in both our established institutions and our everyday lives. On Sunday, August 20, in front of more than 76,000 fans in Sydney’s Stadium Australia, Spain beat England in the women’s FIFA world cup football final. It was the first world championship for Spain’s national women’s team after victory by the men over the Netherlands in 2010 by the same 1-0 margin in an equally nervy and exciting match. Across Spain, the whole of the country cheered the success of their latest La Roja champions – Campeonas del Mundo!

The game had it all, although the first half was better than the second. English forward Lauren Hemp hit the crossbar at the 16-minute mark, while Spain’s number 19 defender Olga Camona landed an extraordinary left-footed cross-crease strike at 29 minutes, which narrowly squeaked by the keeper to give Spain a one-nil lead, a result that stood until the final whistle, including a nail-biting 13 minutes (!!!) of added time. Spain’s number 10 Jenni Hermoso also missed a penalty at 68 minutes after a Salma Paralluelo cross was handled in the penalty area by English midfielder Keira Walsh, although one could just as easily say that Mary Earps made an amazing save to keep England’s hopes of an equalizer alive. England had done just that in the Euro 2022 championships after they scored twice to win 2-1 and deny Spain a semi-final place. In Sydney, Earps was awarded the Golden Glove award, while Spain’s Aitana Bonmati received the Ballon d’Or.

Of course, that’s what we should be discussing and celebrating, the fine points of a great sporting match. Rather than the antics of Spanish football federation president, Luis Rubiales, who kissed striker Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the post-game medal presentation, setting off a barrage of complaints. He also grabbed at his crotch in a sickening sign of solidarity with manager Jorge Vilda and lifted a player across the pitch as if carrying a sack of potatoes – all grossly unacceptable actions. “La vergüenza de Rubiales,” one local paper called it (the shame). The outrage was swift as were the denials, while the verbal sparring started immediately and continues more than a week later, some a holdover from recent troubles, others long-simmering animosity over male control.

Some problems are only now being addressed after player concerns about management style, coaching practices, and tactics were repeatedly swept under the rug. In 2022, the entire team refused to play under Vilda and his coaching staff “until situations that affect our emotional and personal state, our performance … are reversed.” Fifteen players were sacked and replaced, except for three who agreed to “apologize” and “ask for forgiveness,” Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldente, and Ona Batlle. Clearly, there is a problem when players choose not to represent their country in a World Cup rather than suffer the demeaning and indifferent attitudes of the professional men in charge. Amazingly, Spanish football has so many top-flight players an entire team can be remade and still win the World Cup the next year. But why weren’t more questions asked? The red flags should have been seen.

At the very least, an apology was in order, basic PR at this level. The RFEF job comes with numerous responsibilities and a €360,000 annual salary. Instead, Rubiales doubled down on his bad behaviour, presumably hoping to keep his lucrative position, and refused to apologize in a RFEF meeting on Friday. Not the behaviour expected of the head of a national football federation in its finest moment. At least, he was finally suspended by FIFA after refusing to apologize or resign. FIFA doesn’t mess around. There is a fortune in sponsorships to manage.

Is this a #MeToo moment for Spain, following in the wake of long covered-up crimes by the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein in the United States and numerous high-profile scandals elsewhere? Possibly, especially in a country where women have been murdered by their partners in record numbers. Irene Montero, acting minister for Equality, and Ione Belarra, acting minister for Social Rights, both referred to Rubiales’s actions as “sexual violence.” Yolanda Díaz, the acting deputy prime minister and leader of the newly formed Sumar party called it bochorno, which has two meanings – the first pertaining to climate meaning hot humid weather and the second an embarrassment. Sports journalist Alex Ibaceta called the pushback, “A revolution 40 years in the making,” referring to the kiss as “minuscule in proportion to everything that has occurred since 1988.”

One can also query the lack of representation in Spain and elsewhere. Why are so few women in management in the RFEF and in other federations? Why are women underrepresented in board rooms and in academic faculties? Since their inception in 1901 there have only been 60 women Nobel Prize recipients compared to 894 men with scores of dubious omissions, such as Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, and Jocelyn Bell Burnel. At least Marie Curie is one of only 4 double winners (Physics 1903, Chemistry 1911), although she was hounded by the French press and academy for years for personal matters, unlike the feted treatment of other male recipients. A giant of science, Curie was so esteemed by Albert Einstein that he would only attend the first Solvay conference if Madame Curie was there.

Should we call this a renewed Battle of the Sexes? Or joke that it was a man’s world until Eve came along? More like toxic male culture. Rubiales claimed he is being cancelled. As if calling out bad behaviour, which is then doubled down and applauded rather than acknowledged as a mistake, is somehow the equivalent of an administrative glitch. Filthy locker room talk on display in front of the world is disgraceful as it is anywhere. Crotch grabbing? Shameful. Manipulating and pressurizing employees? Illegal.

Unfortunately, such behaviour is symptomatic of a larger problem, for example, when Donald Trump is caught disparaging women with impunity as in his epic chauvinist rant on Access Hollywood – “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.” How can such cretinous thinking not make one unelectable or that of his repeated misogynistic nicknames? Instead of being sanctioned, such action goes unpunished, supported by congressional members, the media, and even Christian leaders. Rubiales was applauded by his male colleagues at the recent RFEF meeting after claiming he had been victimized. Only in a misogynistic society that undervalues half the population can one accept such characterizations.

Money is certainly an issue, heaps of it in professional football. Money is the grease that runs professional sport, which can get very dirty, especially when male authority is questioned. FIFA’s 2022 revenues were almost $5 billion with no shortage in player salaries, for the men anyway. Saudi Arabian league teams recently signed Brazilian forward Neymar Júnior for over $300 million a year, Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo for almost $220 million a year, French striker Karim Benzema the same, and French midfielder N’Golo Kante $100 million a year [Square Mile]. Better not question those in charge at those prices. Of course, those self-same Saudis are not known for equal rights, where women were banned from driving, couldn’t purchase travel tickets without a husband’s permission, and weren’t even allowed into a football stadium until recently.

There is no comparable Saudi women’s league – a women’s national team didn’t even exist until two years ago and only played its first game in February 2022. At the same time across the professional sports playing world, women have had to demand proper remuneration, commensurate at least with the obvious revenues. Outrage doesn’t extend to the obscene amounts of money the Saudis are throwing around to attract male athletes to their desert shores in an obvious attempt at sportswashing. Not exactly a level playing field when it comes to inclusivity in sports. Or gender fairness.

In the same vein, one could ask about Lionel Messi and his roughly $50 million to play for the Miami MSL team in Florida, a state that recently banned gender studies and access to abortion care after six weeks pregnancy. We all know Big Sports is a bank machine. Revenues of the four main North American sports in 2022 were $18 billion (NFL), $10 billion (MLB), $10 billion (NBA), and $5 billion (NHL) [StartupTalky]. Cricket, English football, Spanish football, German football, and Italian football are all in the same league, with billions in revenues to keep them from answering basic questions about fairness.

To be sure, power always wins unless it is challenged. The coming COP27 is run by an oil company. Renewable energy is called out for subsidies, while the oil industry get upwards of $7 trillion a year ($13 million per minute according to the IMF). Another senseless war is being waged, while ecocide runs unchecked. Hay muchas tonterías en este mundo. The everyday misogyny is there too if one wants to look. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was ignored by male leaders such as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan not providing her a seat during her 2021 EU visit with European Council president Charles Michel. Uganda’s foreign minister Jeje Odongo ignored her and wouldn’t shake her hand at a 2022 EU summit. Cringeworthy, scandalous, and for women an everyday reality.

Andy Murray called out a reporter for his sexist question at a 2017 Wimbledon post-match press conference that ignored Serena’s William’s peerless accomplishments as the only US player to reach a recent Grand Slam semi-final. The bronze Fearless Girl sculpture was removed from its location across from the NYSE on Broad Street after complaints by the sculptor of the nearby Charging Bull sculpture, as if female resilience cannot coexist with financial struggle. Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson seems to think “The masculine spirit is under assault,” as if afraid to share the spoils of our bountiful world. Binary thinking is promoted in a world where feminism is equated to Marxism and chaos, undermining the vast spectrum of human existence.

Even Google Translate has overt sexism in gender-inflected languages. In English, there is no problem with the phrase “The nurse gave directions to the engineer,” because nurse and engineer can be either female or male. But translate the same phrase into Spanish in Google Translate and you get a female nurse and a male engineer (La enfermera le dio instrucciones al ingeniero).

There is a problem when one of the world’s richest companies, one that is at the forefront of AI technology, can’t get their own algorithm to render the world as it is – feminine and masculine and full of female engineers and male nurses. Is this symbolic or a wider manifestation of everyday sexism and misogyny? In Canada, the lack of female engineers prompted a campaign to encourage more women to enrol in university engineering with the catchy slogan, “I want to be an engineer just like my mom.” The ads showed girls fixing bikes and making Lego buildings, which helped rebalance the applicants and graduates.

Interestingly, today, when one types, “The football players are the champions” into Google Translate, one does have a choice of either “Las futbolistas son las campeonas.(feminine)” or “Los futbolistas son los campeones.(masculine).” It seems even machines can learn from their own mistakes although such rendering is not yet universal as in “The nurse gave directions to the engineer.” Still not translated for the world I live in.

Alas, the real world is far from symbolic. Megan Rapinoe, the retiring former co-captain of the US women’s football team, was maliciously harassed after USA were narrowly between by Sweden in the most recent FIFA quarter finals after having led the team to victory on two previous occasions. She was called a “loser” and “too focused on her wokeism” by Megyn Kelly. The biggest bully of all was Piers Morgan, who wrote the US team were “unpatriotic losers” and Rapinoe was “Supremely arrogant, annoyingly self-aggrandizing, and all about the money.” How does such doggerel go unchallenged? Are we still fighting Billie Jean’s battle five decades after her victory over Bobby Riggs?

Of Rubiales’s actions, Rapinoe stated there was a “deep level of misogyny and sexism” in Spanish football and that Jenni Hermoso was “physically assaulted.” Where are the male voices standing up to the bullies? – a scant few have made their voices heard.

Such vitriol may seem tame compared to the daily problems faced by women in Spain and around the world. According to a 2021 UN report, almost 50,000 women and girls are killed by their intimate partners or family members each year. That’s a real story with real victims, not the ravings of a highly paid federation president claiming he is a victim of his own obscene behaviour on the greatest stage in women’s football, supported by a roomful of clapping men for his 5-times repeated “No voy a dimitir” (I will not resign). Most women and men outside that room don’t agree. Most women and men outside that room have had enough. Is it too much to ask to treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness, even those with whom you disagree? Treating people fairly is not a hot-button cultural issue. It is life and death.

Nor can men try to mansplain the response of those in the starring role. But rather, men including myself must examine their own everyday behaviour and be the person our mothers and hopefully our fathers wanted us to be. At the very least, women must be in power over their own sports, their own affairs. Men must stand up and call out injustice, be it sexism, misogyny, or cruelty. Just as we call out inequality, slavery, and racism.

I can’t say the names of Salma, Olga, and Jenni Hermoso were familiar to me before the 2023 matches, but then neither were those of Xabi Alonso, Xavi, and Iniesta in 2010, but I am happy to cheer them on as they march forward to the next international competition. I can only hope the games will be as exciting as they were this year. In the end football is a game, where the team one roots for can seem oddly incongruent with sane living as in all sports. But at the end of the day, one should be happy to see good athletes and fans celebrate the joys of victory with respect and dignity.

The first consequence of this story is that a great match between two of the best teams in the world, Spain and England, has been kicked into touch, because of a macho gesture and a privileged patriarchal response. That’s the sad part of the story – women not getting what they deserve. Again! One can try and turn it around and oddly cast a man as a victim and by extension men in general as victims of female power. Call it cancel culture, virtue signalling, social Marxism, affirmative action, fake feminism, wokeism to try to escape the truth that such behaviour wasn’t right in the playground and is not right anywhere. It is unacceptable.

The battle is ongoing and does not start or end with a kiss. It is time to call out institutions and administrators that act to maintain inequality, injustice, and misogyny. Actions speak louder than words. This is not a man’s world. It is everyone’s world. I’m with Jenni and the champions. Congratulations to champions everywhere and to “Las Campeonas del Mundo.”

John K. White, a former lecturer in physics and education at University College Dublin and the University of Oviedo. He is the editor of the energy news service E21NS and author of The Truth About Energy: Our Fossil-Fuel Addiction and the Transition to Renewables (Cambridge University Press, 2024) and Do The Math!: On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013). He can be reached at: