The Spanish footballer Jenni Hermoso has said Spain’s World Cup win was part of a “more human, more transcendent” battle for equality in her first public remarks since her team’s triumph was overshadowed by an unsolicited kiss.
The speech was made as part of an event in Mexico, where Hermoso plays for the football club Pachuca, and which featured a tribute to the world champion. The 33-year-old began by describing her emotions as she lifted the World Cup trophy alongside her teammates.
“I keep wondering what we really did that night,” she told the audience. “We won a title, we became known around the world and became one of the best teams in history, but deep down we achieved something much more human, more transcendent.”
The celebration of La Roja’s achievement was swiftly eclipsed by the actions of the country’s then football chief, Luis Rubiales, who grabbed Hermoso by the head, pulled her towards him and planted a kiss on her lips during the medal ceremony.
As outrage mounted across Spain, many found it impossible to untangle Rubiales’ actions from the decades of systemic discrimination suffered by female football players in Spain.
Speaking on Wednesday, Hermoso hinted at this long-running battle. “We didn’t become champions so that we could lift a trophy that would stay in display case, or receive a bonus or appear on thousands of [magazine] covers that would wrinkle over time,” she said. “We became world champions because it was the only way that we had left to be heard, respected and valued.”
Nearly two months after the World Cup win, she hailed La Roja for transforming the way many saw women’s football. “I’m certain that millions of girls around the world identified with and felt protected by this group of brave, committed and honourable players, who with every step have thought about the future of all of these girls,” she said.
The struggle for equality had come at a personal cost, she acknowledged. “Perhaps we sacrificed some joy, some celebration, and, undeservedly, we suffered more than we deserved to at a historic moment for us,” she said.
The fallout from the unsolicited kiss gripped Spain for weeks, spilling over into a wider reckoning on sexism and abuses of power in the workplace. Across the country people declared: Se Acabó, meaning “it’s over”, as the football federation pulled its support for Rubiales, the coach of the women’s national team was sacked, and Hermoso filed a criminal complaint accusing Rubiales of sexual assault.
Rubiales has repeatedly said that the kiss was consensual. “I have faith in the truth and I will do everything in my power so that it prevails,” he said in a statement released last month as he resigned.
Hermoso pointed to the “enormous responsibility” that she and the team were carrying for future generations. “To all those people who do not have a loudspeaker to make themselves heard, I want to say that this battle belongs to all of us,” she said. “We win on the field and off the field so as to ensure that sport and society are inclusive and protect us all.”
She ended her speech with a nod to the hashtag that had been embraced from Seville to Santander as Spanish football grappled with its #MeToo moment. “And to everyone I want to say: Se acabó,” she said. “I’m Jenni Hermoso, I’m a football player and I’m that girl who became a world champion.”