CORDOVA: Spain’s women’s national team took one step towards the Olympic Games and several more towards equality, over a tense fortnight out of which a fragile peace emerged. “Yes, we are happy,” said defender Olga Carmona, after Spain thrashed Switzerland 5-0 in the Nations League in front of a record crowd in Cordoba, when asked if she wanted the current coach, Montse Tome, and her staff to stay.
Spain presented the Women’s World Cup trophy, won in August, to over 14,000 supporters—a new highest attendance for the team on home soil, with players doing a lap of honour at the end, delighted to focus on football again. The team’s joy in Sydney was irrevocably tainted by the actions of disgraced former Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales, who forcibly kissed midfielder Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the medal ceremony.
It sparked a worldwide backlash, with over 80 players striking against the national team, with Rubiales eventually resigning three weeks later, still insisting the kiss was consensual. The players capitalised on the chance to push through changes they had been demanding for months, years, “decades” even, according to captain Alexia Putellas. The two-time Ballon d’Or winner and her Barcelona team-mate Irene Paredes were voted in as the squad’s new leaders, for these Nations League matches at least, by their team-mates, under new coach Montse Tome.
The 41-year-old was initially viewed with great suspicion by the squad, as disliked former coach Jorge Vilda’s assistant. Before the World Cup 15 Spain stars staged another strike, against Vilda’s methods and other federation issues, although many eventually relented.
In the wake of the Rubiales scandal, Vilda was sacked, with the federation scrambling to appease players and polish to their sullied image, at a time when they are bidding for the 2030 men’s World Cup. Despite Vilda and Rubiales’ eventual departure, 39 players stayed on strike, demanding further changes in the federation, including “zero tolerance” for anyone infringing on the dignity of women’s football, and other logistical improvements.
With the Nations League games against Sweden and Switzerland approaching fast, Tome selected a 23 player squad, the vast majority of whom were still on strike. It created outrage among players, who gathered at the camp on Spain’s east coast in the small town of Oliva, only because of the threat of losing their licences to play if they disobeyed. The Spanish government intervened, and in a meeting which stretched into the early hours of the morning, a deal was struck between the players, the federation and the CSD (Spain’s sports council).
Two players, Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro, departed, but the rest stayed, with Putellas and Paredes explaining it was the best way to ensure the pledged progress would happen. Putellas described the deal hopefully as a “turning point” for society, but Paredes said it was a long process and they still “can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel”.
The changes are happening. The federation sacked general secretary Andreu Camps, while other heads will roll in weeks to come. Rubiales is in court on sexual assault charges over the kiss and has been given a restraining order preventing him coming into contact with Hermoso.
“If you don’t fight, there’s no prize,” Cristina Fuentesal, 25, a teaching assistant from Malaga, told AFP, as she waited for Spain’s team bus to arrive in Cordoba. “The players have fought, knowing what’s going on inside the federation—we’re with them until the end.”
Easing pressure ?
Spain’s two Nations League victories appeared to ease pressure on Tome, with the team aiming to earn Olympics qualification by reaching the Nations League final. In her first press conference she was visibly agitated, but reinforced by the calming situation and Spain’s performances, she spoke with more certainty and confidence.
Many questions remain ahead of the team’s next Nations League matches at the end of October, including a key one—will Hermoso return? Tome did not select Hermoso to “protect” her, but the Pachuca player hit back with a statement on social media asking what she needed to be protected from.
Scores of supporters sporting her shirt outside the Nuevo Arcangel stadium in Cordoba hope she will return soon. “We bought flights, hotel and everything before the World Cup final, because she’s playing in Mexico and we obviously can’t go there,” said another fan, Alba, 32, who travelled to Cordoba from Barcelona. “We came here to see (Hermoso) ... I hope she comes back because she deserves it, she’s a player that brings a lot to the team and I think she has to be here.” – AFP