Spain's federation wastes no time giving its players the middle finger after World Cup win - 5 minutes read

Spain's federation wastes no time giving its players the middle finger after World Cup win

Spain capture bittersweet World Cup title following year of controversyThe past year has seen plenty of controversy surrounding the Spain Women's national team, but in the end leave Australia and New Zealand with their first World Cup title.SportsPulse, USA TODAY

It is never enough for women to simply win.

They get maybe two seconds to revel in their accomplishment and celebrate themselves before they have to dig back in, because the inequities and the sexism and the misogyny and all the other awfulness that existed before their beautiful moment remain. And lord knows the people in power, the ones who should be righting their own wrongs, won’t do so without a fight.

Not that Spain needed a reminder of this – "I want to remember all the women that have been pushing and fighting over the years for (us) to have better conditions. This is for them and from them," Golden Ball winner Aitana Bonmati said – but its federation provided one nonetheless. The players were still on the field playing in the confetti after winning their first World Cup title when the federation’s social account posted a photo of coach Jorge Vilda with the caption, "Vilda In."

That’s the same Jorge Vilda who created a training environment so intolerable that 15 of Spain’s top players said last year they wouldn’t play for the national team until conditions improved. The same Jorge Vilda who used his World Cup roster to exact petty revenge, taking only three of the 15 to the tournament in Australia and New Zealand despite several more saying they wished to return.

The federation included an emoji of an index finger raised in the No. 1 sign. But a middle finger would have been more appropriate because that’s essentially what the federation was giving its players.

And it got worse! As the players received their champions medal, Spain federation president Luis Rubiales grabbed Jenni Hermoso, the team's all-time leading scorer, and kissed her on the lips without her permission. And without her interest.

"Yeah, I did not enjoy that," Hermoso told broadcasters afterward.

There are coaches, like Jill Ellis or German men’s coach Joachim Löw, whose fingerprints can be seen all over the championship trophy. Vilda is not one of those coaches. It is Spain’s exceptional players who are responsible for the World Cup title. Their skills were honed with their clubs – Barcelona, primarily – ­not with the national team.

His players are so talented all Vilda had to do was hand in a lineup and stay out of their way.

And he could barely manage that.

"We’ve suffered a lot over last 12 months," captain Olga Carmona, who gave Spain the only goal it needed in the 29th minute, said afterward. "But I think everything has a reason, and it’s made us a stronger team."

Now Spain will have to be strong again.

CARMONA: Spain's goal scorer learns after World Cup final her father died

Winning the World Cup gives the players leverage with the federation and they need to use it to exact the changes they want. The changes they need. Whether that means Vilda isn’t the coach going forward – his refusal to commit when asked multiple times if he plans to stay on was notable – or Rubiales is chastened or the federation provides more funding and resources, the players will never be in a better position to force changes than they are now.

The U.S. women are the model for this. They used the blockbuster success of their 1999 World Cup win to earn a new contract that gave them guaranteed paychecks. Their 2015 and 2019 titles laid the foundation for their landmark contract that assures them equal pay to the U.S. men, including an equal split of World Cup prize money.

Public opinion obviously helped the USWNT’s cause. The players were serenaded with chants of "Equal pay! Equal pay!" during the victory ceremony at the 2019 World Cup and again at their victory parade in New York City. When U.S. Soccer disparaged the players the following year in a court filing in the equal pay lawsuit, sponsors balked.

Ultimately, the federation realized this battle was costing far more than equality would. The same can happen in Spain.

Despite the discrimination and condescension that’s been baked in toward women’s soccer for decades in Spain, the sport has become exponentially popular.

Barcelona drew more than 91,000 people for games twice in 2022, and some 8,000 fans traveled to see this year’s Champions League final in the Netherlands. Four years ago, Atletico Madrid set what was then an attendance record with 60,739 fans. That broke a record set a few months earlier by the Athletic Club in Bilbao, Spain.

There were watch parties for Sunday’s final in more than 100 cities in Spain, and the ones in Madrid and Barcelona appeared to be packed.

If Spain fans believe the players are being treated unfairly, that will only put more pressure on the federation. Change might not happen overnight, but it will happen.

It’s not fair to ask Spain's players to continue fighting for equality when all they should be doing is celebrating. It’s infuriating that the players' greatest accomplishment has to be forever linked to their second-class treatment. But that’s how it is for women athletes.

A win on the field isn't the end of the fight. It has to be the beginning, or things will never change.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media .

Source: USA Today

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