BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — One month after Spanish soccer was rocked by a sexism scandal, players from Spain’s Women’s World Cup-winning team said Thursday a turning point has been reached in their fight for equality.
Spain star Alexia Putellas, the two-time Ballon d’Or winner, said that the deal reached after a marathon meeting this week between the players, federation and government mediators would lead to real reform inside their beleaguered national soccer federation.
“I believe that the meeting of the other day will mark a before and after,” said Alexia, who goes by her first name in Spain. “I truly believe that the agreement we reached after the meeting that lasted all night will make our sport, women’s sports in general and as a consequence, society at large better.”
Alexia spoke at a news conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, on the eve of Spain’s Nations League game against Sweden. Spain’s team arrived Thursday after a brief training camp in Valencia, Spain, where the focus was more on an all-night meeting that ran into Wednesday morning by players, federation officials, and government mediators.
Alexia and fellow veteran Irene Paredes, who also spoke at the news conference, said the meeting convinced them and most of her teammates that the federation was serious about eliminating what Alexia called “systematic discrimination” inside the institution. Many details of the meeting were not made public.
Friday’s game is Spain’s first since they won the Women’s World Cup by beating England in the Aug. 20 final in Sydney, Australia. But the players have had to deal with the enormous scandal and its fallout after former president Luis Rubiales kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent during the World Cup awards ceremony.
Alexia said she felt confident that real change was on the way because the agreement with the federation included the creation of an oversight committee made up of players, federation officials and government officials to oversee the changes that would be carried out. She said that she expects the government’s higher sports council to eventually make the agreement public. But that it also included a commitment by the federation to rewrite its discrimination protocols.
“If this make it easier for women to see the example of what happened to our teammate, then it has been worth it,” Alexia said. “After all that we have suffered, and Jenni who has has suffered most of all.”
It could also lead to more personnel changes, although neither Alexia nor Paredes mentioned any. After the long meeting the federation fired its secretary general, Andreu Camps, who was considered to be close to Rubiales. The players had previously asked for changes in other departments of the federation to remove anyone who had “incited, covered up or applauded” sexist acts or attitudes, as well as for interim federation president Pedro Rocha to step down.
Monsté Tomé, their new coach, spoke at the news conference before the players.
Tomé, who replaced the fired Jorge Vidal, is now under scrutiny after having called up players, including Alexia, Paredes and 13 more World Cup winners, after they had said they did not want to play for the federation until reforms were made.
When asked about reports by Spain’s state television broadcaster RTVE that Tomé may be in danger of being fired after next week’s game against Switzerland, she replied that she was “confident in my work.”
Alexia later said that the players had never asked for either Tomé or Vilda, her predecessor, to be fired.
The World Cup winners had boycotted the team after Rubiales had accused Hermoso of lying and claiming he was a victim of a “witch hunt” by “false feminists” and only the call-up by Tomé, which was against their wishes, brought them back.
The forced re-encounter spurred Spain’s Secretary of State for Sports Víctor Francos to step in and the resulting negotiations led to a breakthrough.
The players turned up for training camp in Valencia on Tuesday, but it required Francos to personally mediate between the federation and players to get most of the players to stay. Two players did leave the team after assurances were given that they would not be punished with fines or bans from playing for their clubs, as could have been the case according to Spain’s sports law.
Spanish politicians, soccer clubs and players, along with many fans, have supported the players in their clash with the federation. The government and women’s rights groups have characterized it as a “Me Too” movement in Spanish soccer.
“We still don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, this is going to be a long process,” said Paredes, the team’s defensive leader. “We hope that this can be a turning point for people to look at, where women can raise their voice and say if something has happened, and we can eradicate these types of situations.”
After meetings and what sounded like countless calls between teammates, Alexia said she and her teammates are far from in optimum condition to face top-ranked Sweden. Spain is ranked No. 2.
“We knew it was necessary, but don’t forget that we are professional athletes, and imagine how it is for us with the bedtimes we are keeping,” the Barcelona midfielder said. “We have slept four hours a night for the past week because of all the meetings. We are the first ones who just want to play soccer, but we understand that we have had to get it into our heads that it has not been possible to just be soccer players.”
Rubiales, who finally resigned amid massive pressure from the government and FIFA, is facing a judicial investigation of accusations that he sexually assaulted Hermoso by kissing her against her will during the award ceremony for the Aug. 20 World Cup final. He is also accused of coercion for allegedly having pressured Hermoso into publicly supporting him. He denies the claims.
The National Court investigating the case has summoned four employees of the federation to give testimony in the coming days, the court said Thursday.
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