Fans of Swedish club Linkoping and England’s Arsenal showed their solidarity with Spain player Jenni Hermoso ahead of a Champions League qualifier on Wednesday as the fallout from a kiss in the wake of the Women’s World Cup final continues.
Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales grabbed Hermoso and kissed her on the lips after Spain’s 1-0 victory over England, prompting world governing body FIFA to suspend him from all football-related activities for three months as it investigates the incident.
Rubiales, 46, has refused to step down and been defiant over the kiss – which has been condemned as unwanted by Hermoso, her team mates and the Spanish government – arguing it was consensual.
The situation has since spiralled into a national row over women’s rights, macho behaviour and sexual abuse that has attracted attention from all over the world.
The two sets of fans gathered at the Linkoping Arena an hour before kickoff on Wednesday, unfurling a banner with the message “Se Acabo” – Spanish for “It’s Over” – written on it, a slogan that has been used to support Hermoso online.
“Spain won the World Cup, but we hear more about this (situation) than the football they’ve played,” Arsenal fan Lulu Eude told Reuters.
“Unfortunately, that is the case sometimes in women’s football and women’s sports – these causes have to take the spotlight off the football,” she added.
Eude travelled to the game, which Arsenal won 3-0, with her friends and fellow Arsenal fans Joanna Andrews, Tilly Grassick and Nathalie van Hameren, and together with other fans they chanted “Contigo Jenni” – “We’re with you Jenni” – on the way to the ground.
“I think she (Hermoso) just had what should be the biggest sporting achievement of her life, and it’s just so overshadowed,” Grassick said.
Rubiales sought to defend his behaviour at a federation meeting where he had been widely expected to step down, calling the kiss “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual.”
He has also said he will use the FIFA disciplinary probe to show he is innocent.
Hermoso has lodged a criminal complaint, the national prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday.
Linkoping fan Emma Holmquist, who is part of the club’s “Lion Pack” supporters group, said that putting together the protest in support of Hermoso was surprisingly easy – when she tried to contact Arsenal fan groups, she found that they had also been trying to get in touch with her.
“We were both very happy, because we didn’t have to try to convince one another,” Holmquist told Reuters.
A lifelong Linkoping fan, Holmquist said that while many wanted to see Rubiales and others resign, both the structures and the culture of women’s football needed to change.
“I won’t be satisfied until they can show that they can build a new organisation where sexism is noticeable for its absence,” she explained.
“Respect for players, regardless of gender, must exist in the new organisation. Then, I’ll be happy,” she added.