Addressing the World Cup controversy

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Mollie Shiflett ’26 is an undecided major who will probably end up majoring in History. She plays on the Gold Women’s Club Soccer team for the College of William and Mary and is an avid fan of most sports — except golf. Email Mollie at

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

If you’re a soccer fan like I am, chances are that you have kept an eye on the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which wrapped up on Aug. 20. Spain beat England 1-0 to win its first ever World Cup, but it’s what happened after the final whistle that has everyone talking.

Spain has had more than its share of controversy over the course of its World Cup, with 12 capped players effectively being removed from the team before the start of the tournament due to the fact that they felt the coach Jorge Vilda had created a culture that had a detrimental effect on their “emotional state”, and they sent a letter to that effect, but he’s also not who we’re talking about right now.

For those of you who are aware of what happened, I apologize for the slow buildup, but I’ll get into it now. While the Spanish players were receiving their winner’s medals, Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Soccer Federation, grabbed midfielder/forward Jennifer Hermoso and kissed her in what was described by Spain’s Minister of Equality Irene Montero as a “form of sexual violence.” Later the Federation released a statement speaking for Hermoso, calling the incident “a mutual gesture.”

These sorts of actions, followed by an — admittedly awful — attempt to cover it up, or justify it, is a great example of all the things that are still wrong in the world of women’s sports. Now, I understand that this isn’t anything that any of you haven’t heard before, but as long as it continues to happen, and as long as environments are created where this sort of behavior is even remotely okay, someone has to continue to draw attention to it. The fact that a world champion, someone who has risen to the top of their craft, can be used and abused on live television is against everything we should be. This is just the latest — and most blatant — mistreatment that female athletes have had to deal with.

Every player, whether male or female, should be treated with the same amount of respect, but we live in a world where that respect is fundamentally lacking. And that disrespect comes in many different flavors. Just last year, Indiana’s Women’s basketball team, who at the time was ranked seventh in the nation, went to a tournament where they played Auburn in a hotel ballroom without bleachers for the fans or proper lighting. Or take the famous gym equipment controversy from the NCAA Basketball tournaments a few years back when male players were given a full weight room while the female players had six sets of dumbbells and a stationary bike.

There’s no quick or easy solution to this ingrained inequality, but hopefully this incident will be a moment of change for what is now one of the best teams in the world. The United States had to face its own reckoning over the equal pay lawsuit that was filed by their soccer players; now it’s Spain’s turn. For there to be change, they have to listen to their players, and maybe that will only happen so that they can save face in front of an international community that has lost some respect for them, but at this point I’ll take anything.

The upside to this saga is that because of how public the violation was, FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales, but this is an organization that is known for being corrupt, so I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do the right thing all by themselves. And, given their previous actions in this case, I’m not holding out much hope for the Spanish Federation’s self-policing ability. They should be able to do what was right, but they haven’t so far. If they did, Rubiales would have been asked to resign immediately, and Vilda probably wouldn’t have been their coach for this World Cup (especially since he was caught on camera appearing to touch a female staff member inappropriately during the World Cup final), but no such luck.

When there is such long-lasting inequality, something drastic has to happen to force change. I can only hope that this makes people sit up and pay attention, and care at least for a little while. 

Start small, watch a women’s sporting event and continue setting records for viewership like with this year’s Women’s World Cup. The more people watch, the more money it makes broadcasting companies, and the more likely they are to pay for the rights to competitions, in turn leading to more investment in the sport. The more people pay attention to something, the more it will start to matter. Or donate to foundations that are lobbying to create more gender equality in sports like Play it Forward Sport.

This is a large, complicated issue, and it is not going to be easy to solve, but if we start small and show that women’s sports are worth the time, attention and respect that they aren’t getting right now, we can build up enough momentum to where we can put women’s sports on par with men’s where it belongs.


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