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Rubiales’ unwanted kiss on Jennifer Hermoso ‘derailed’ joy of Spain’s Women’s World Cup success, says FIFA Secretary General

By Zayn Nabbi, CNN

(CNN) — FIFA’s outgoing Secretary General Fatma Samoura said she was encouraged by the global support Jenni Hermoso received after Luis Rubiales’ unwanted kiss on her following Spain’s triumph in the Women’s World Cup final, saying the Spanish football federation president’s actions partly “ruined” the tournament and “derailed” the world champion’s joyous celebrations.

“I didn’t take one second to realize that, oh, that was very inappropriate,” Samoura told CNN Senior Sports Analyst Darren Lewis at the recent Best of Africa Awards in London.

The fallout over Rubiales’ behaviour during the medal ceremony in August triggered a crisis in Spanish soccer and sparked condemnation in Spain and across the world.
Following weeks of fierce criticism, Rubiales resigned last month as the country’s soccer president.

Rubiales, 46, is now under investigation for “the crimes of sexual assault and coercion,” in a case being brought by Spanish prosecutors.

“The way that the world reacted, with the majority of the people who liked sport and also respect the dignity of women, was the right thing to do,” added former UN diplomat Samoura, who is FIFA’s first woman and first African Secretary General.

She suggested the reaction to what Rubiales did was similar to other global movements’ outpouring of activism against systemic abuse.

“And it reminds me what happened after George Floyd was killed, that the whole world reacted in a manner that we have also never experienced before, because racism has no place in society. Gender bias is definitely not something we can accept in football.”

Floyd’s death at the hands of police in 2020 is viewed by many as a racially transformative moment, though others argue the “racial reckoning” phrase has become a rhetorical decoy, a way to avoid facing the deepest problems about race in America instead of a call to confront them.

Keep on fighting for your rights

During her time at FIFA, Samoura has worked on two men’s World Cups, in Russia and Qatar, and two Women’s World Cups, the most recent of which, in Australia and New Zealand, she says was “ruined by a one second gesture.”

Public outcry to the unwanted kiss, which happened on the presentation stage after Hermoso had collected her winner’s medal came from every sphere of Spanish society, including from politicians and sports stars.

One consequence of the scandal was the removal of World Cup-winning manager Jorge Vilda from his role.

“The [Spanish] girls, after having won this most coveted trophy in global women’s football, could not enjoy it to the best,” said Samoura, adding that the incident “really derailed from the joy.”

“I know that football can unite the world … and to have it ruined at the last minute after this celebration of the biggest World Cup, was just something that was unfortunate,” she continued.

“My message to Jenni and to all the Spanish team was, okay, keep on fighting for your rights, keep on also positioning women’s football, keep on focusing on your victory, and hopefully with all the vibes coming from the support you’ve been receiving worldwide, you will keep on winning and winning.”

Samoura was recently given a lifetime achievement award at the Best of Africa Awards in recognition of the legacy she has created in the sport.

When asked if FIFA was ready to have a female president, Samoura said: “I hope one day, and not before too long, we will also see a woman leading football. I think this is a possibility.

“It’s not up to me to decide on that. I think we have to have 211 member associations deciding who’s the best for the FIFA president. And besides that, we have a young and very competent president [Gianni Infantino] and he still has some years to go.”

Infantino has been in the role since 2016 and though he has ushered in several reforms alongside Samoura, he has had detractors, too.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International and FairSquare did not feel he did enough for the plight of migrant workers in Qatar in the build to the 2022 tournament, while Norway  FA president Lise Klaveness directly addressed concerns she had about the ethical questions of migrant workers, the rights of women and the LGBTQI+ community at the organisation’s Congress in Doha last year.

Klaveness, alongside the Norwegian and Swedish representatives in Kigali at the most recent FIFA Congress this past March, also did not join other delegates who rose to applaud Infantino when he was re-elected as president after standing unopposed.

“But I think that for women, nothing is impossible. We have seen very competent women leading member associations,” Samoura added.

Samoura leaves FIFA at the end of the year and is hoping to spend more time with family.

She said she would leave confident that the organization was in a better place now than when she took up her role following a spate of corruption scandals under former president Sepp Blatter and her predecessor Jérôme Valcke.

“I don’t like talking about myself because it’s teamwork. It takes 1,000 people to organize the World Cup, it takes even more to fight all forms of discrimination in the stadium,” said Samoura.

“But I can definitely associate myself with a company that went from disgrace, and from being considered as a toxic brand, to a company that is now invited to the biggest economic forum and to the biggest media to talk about sport and only sport.

“We are succeeding because of teamwork and putting football in the centre of everything we do.”

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