Spain’s Women Soccer Team Rebellion Leads to Historic Federation Reforms

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The impasse between the key players of Spain’s World Cup-winning women’s national soccer team and the country’s beleaguered soccer federation came to an early resolution on Wednesday, triggered by the swift intervention of the government.

Barcelona teammates Patri Guijarro and Mapi Leon, two players enmeshed in the dispute, opted to depart the training camp located in the eastern city of Valencia. This decision was spurred by the government’s assurance that no sanctions would be enforced. Meanwhile, the remaining bulk of the team opted to stay, their decision fueled by promises of impending changes addressing their calls for reform.

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The players had been compelled to report for camp on Tuesday by the newly appointed coach, Montse Tome, against their wishes. This move was the latest in a series of escalating tensions drawing from the crisis that has consumed Spanish soccer since the controversial event of the former federation president Luis Rubiales kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips at an awards ceremony last month.

The rebellion of the players, which stretches out over three weeks, originated days after the players made their intentions clear on Aug. 25. They announced their decision to not compete for the national team unless new leadership was appointed in the federation. Despite Rubiales stepping down, the players persisted in their refusal to return unless the federation underwent deep reform.

Among those who chose to stay back at the training camp was two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who expressed her unease over being there.

While details of the agreement brokered at the conclusion of the lengthy meeting on Wednesday were not immediately made public, the federation took the prompt step of relieving its secretary general, Andreu Camps, of his duties. The removal of Camps, a known ally of Rubiales, was high on the players’ list of demands.

FUTRPO players’ union president, Amanda Gutierrez, stated that strides were underway to establish equal treatment for both Spain’s women’s and men’s national teams.

The Spanish Secretary for Sports and President of the Higher Council for Sports, Victor Francos, shared that the conclusions of the meetings led to the formation of a committee which incorporates players, the federation, and government representation. Objectives of this committee aim to promote gender policy advancements, equal pay considerations, and spearhead significant structural changes in women’s soccer.

In a symbolic gesture, the federation declared the removal of the term “de futbol femenino,” — “women’s soccer,” from the name of the team. Both the men’s and women’s national teams will now be collectively referred to as “Seleccion Espanola de Futbol,” or, “Spain’s national soccer team.”

In a statement, Pedro Rocha, the federation’s interim president, explained the nomenclature change as a shift in concept, a way to recognise that soccer remains the same, regardless of who plays the game.

But Rocha has been one of the key figures whom the players demand be replaced. Guijarro and Leon, who have been part of a previous revolt among team members, insisting on a more professional working environment, have chosen not to represent Spain since.

Saying they were given no say in their return to the team, Guijarro and Leon describe their situation as being different from the rest, believing the decision ought to be a process and not a command. That said, they did express contentment over the fact that positive changes were on the horizon.

Acting Minister for Culture and Sports, Miquel Iceta, conveyed optimism, hoping that the expected reforms by the federation would breed an environment in which the players feel truly motivated, comfortable, and happy to play and win.

The federation has planned to hold early elections in early 2024 to kick off these fresh changes.

Despite such upheavals, there were no requests made by players for Coach Tome to resign. However, she must now work to regain their trust. The players’ vented frustration at being selected for the national team against their will was further fuelled by the selection of nearly half of the 39 players involved in the revolt, including 15 World Cup-winning players.

In the midst of such turbulence, the government gave assurance that it would not seek to penalize the players who opted to leave.

This entire ordeal unfolded while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was in meetings with Gianni Infantino in New York, discussing Spain’s joint bid with Portugal and Morocco to host the men’s World Cup in 2030. Sanchez’s government expressed worries that the Rubiales scandal could potentially derail the bid.

It is important to note that the players’ clash with the federation received widespread support from Spanish politicians, soccer clubs, players, and fans. The government and feminist groups view it as a “Me Too” movement playing out in Spanish soccer.