What can we learn from the Luis Rubiales incident

Luis Rubiales unsolicited kiss at the FIFA Women’s World Cup underlines the importance of timeTo training

Katrina Urban

Head of Learning and Development NABS and TimeTo


Following the shocking story of Luis Rubiales (President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation) kissing Spanish national star Jenni Hermoso on the lips at the FIFA Women's World Cup final, we have seen an uproar of anger around the world. This is sexual harassment in the workplace on a grand scale. From where I’m sitting, this looks, yet again, like men in positions of power protecting one another with gaslighting and victim-blaming. As a member of the timeTo steering committee and timeTo training lead, this feels like a very familiar story.

There are parallels between this story and what occurs in our own industry. Data from the All In Census in 2023 revealed that of all those who had experienced sexual harassment, 39% were harassed by someone senior to them and 36% were concerned about the impact on their career.

To delve into this issue more deeply, I spoke to Lara Hallam and Hannah Rendell Creatives at sports marketing agency Dark Horses. As sports experts and football enthusiasts, I took a deep dive into how this matter has affected the sport and extended into our own industry. And ask the important question, what can we learn from this?

This is clearly not just about a kiss, but a reflection on how women who report sexual harassment and abuse are received.

Katrina Urban, Head of Learning and Development, NABS and TimeTo Training Lead

The past week has been turbulent for women’s football. The Spanish football federation has questioned Jenni Hermoso’s claim and threatened legal action for "lies". What effect will this attitude from a major organisation have on women’s football? What message do you think this sends to women in general? 

This Women’s World Cup, and the Euros last year, has truly helped women’s football to feel like a safe space. It’s clear from the conversations online and the actions from fans that this sport is inspiring people of all ages.

Yet no one’s talking about the fact that Jamaica defied expectations to make it to the knock-outs, Mary Earps’ history-making penalty save in the final, or even Spain’s first Women’s World Cup win anymore. This kiss has tarnished the whole thing.

It’s sending the message that no matter who you are, or what you achieve, you’re still under the thumb of powerful men in the world. And their word will trump yours.

It feels like we’ve taken one step forward and two steps back. At a time when women’s empowerment literally had the world’s attention, it’s taken the hardest hit. 

How did this make us feel as women who love football? 

These women are idols to so many of us. People that we still look at and think ‘I want to be them when I grow up’, even if we’re already grown.

So to see someone who’s such a huge name in the sport, like Jenni Hermoso, experiencing something like this so publicly, it’s honestly hard to know what we feel.

On the one hand, it’s obviously made us feel angry, and frankly protective, over the sport and the women who compete in it. We’ve fought so long to make women’s football what it is, on the flip side seeing people all over the world banding together to demand action, feels inspiring. We really hope that this can turn something so awful into a huge positive change for women’s sport. 

How will this affect the way young women and girls view sports and football? What can be done to make sure this is detrimental to taking up the game? 

This case is bound to have negative effects that filter down through all levels of football, from professional to grassroutes. Making women feel cautious and hesitant, when they should feel empowered. 

Yet despite the negatives, there’s a positive to be found in the fact that this case is lighting a fire under us all. One of the most powerful tools in combating sexual harassment is conversations. We need more people to be talking about it, from the top dogs in organisations to the young girls at school.

And the situation between Hermoso and Rubiales proves that the right conversations are happening. BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Semra Hunter said that this is the first time she’s ever seen Spanish Society “come together so unanimously”. It goes to show that this has touched nerves on a global scale, and it’s up to us all to keep the ball rolling. 

This is clearly not just about a kiss, but a reflection on how women who report sexual harassment and abuse are received. What can our industry learn and take away from this incident? 

It’s hugely important that so many people are speaking up about sexual harassment because of this incident - but we should look at why this has struck such a cord. Hermoso’s experience represents something every single woman faces every day, especially in the workplace.

It’s easy to feel small in an industry so big, and that doesn’t just apply to advertising or sport. One thing that we’ve experienced personally, is the huge element of self doubt that comes with knowing when to speak up about something you’ve witnessed or been through. The worry of being called a ‘liar’ or ‘overreacting’, is always in the back of our minds, and the people claiming Hermoso is lying are only reinforcing that.

This could, and should, be the start of women feeling comfortable enough to voice their experiences and feel supported doing so - no matter if it’s on a pitch, in the workplace, or in their everyday life. 

Following the news, Assistant managers Montse Tome, Javier Lerga and Eugenio Gonzalo Martin, along with physio Blanca Romero Moraleda and goalkeeping coach Carlos Sanchez, have all quit, standing by Hermoso. Do you think this is the type of action that will allow women to be taken seriously and their claims validated? And is it enough? 

The short answer is no, this isn’t enough.

Yes, this type of action is a step in the right direction and shows that when women speak up there will always be those that will take a stand to show their support. It’s the start of something bigger, but it shouldn’t have to come to managers or top dogs resigning to have a claim heard. And it doesn’t mean the problem’s solved.

Why should it take the men getting involved, for the situation to be taken seriously?

We need to give women’s voices, whether it’s the fans, the footballers, or the CEOs, the same volume. So that when they speak up the first time, they’re heard. 

How can this situation open up a conversation as to why people do not feel comfortable reporting sexual harassment and abuse? 

The media has turned the conversations about Hermoso and Rubiales into a game of ‘he said, she said’. It makes all women, including us, wonder if this would be our treatment should we report something too.

To make the right moves, we need to open up more conversations off the back of this, with our colleagues, employers, coaches, families, and anyone else who’ll listen. It’s so important to stop the act of reporting sexual harassment being framed as ‘drastic’ - it’s the bare minimum.

Companies need to be looking into why their employees don’t speak up. Schools and parents need to make sure their children know that it’s always ok to say something. And women in general need to share their stories with one another. 

Lara and Hannah are Junior Creatives at Dark Horses. They were the 2023 Gold Creative Circle winners, and have previously been at The & Partnership and Media Bounty.

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Guest Author

Katrina Urban

Head of Learning and Development NABS and TimeTo


Katrina Urban is Head of Learning and Development at NABS and TimeTo Training Lead.

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Women Sexual Harassment