Dust turned into Mud: The RFEF take-over of Spanish Women’s Football in 2019

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If you follow Spanish women’s football, you may have noticed the multiple issues that have been going on in the 19/20 season of Primera Iberdrola. The long list of issues has its origin in the ongoing conflict between the two heads of Spain’s most potent football organizations: Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, and Luís Rubiales, who has just been re-elected as the president of the Spanish football federation (RFEF).

This is the first chapter of a guide to the roots of the war between both presidents and its consequences on Spanish women’s football.

The roots of Tebas vs Rubiales conflict

Why are the two heads of La Liga and the RFEF at war? The conflict has its roots in the male football league with a disagreement between Rubiales and Tebas regarding who had the competences on match schedule, name of the competition and the brand of the competition ball amongst other issues. The league considered some of these issues were their competence, the RFEF disagreed. All these aspects produce a lot of money, and both organizations were not up to give up an inch.

RFEF: The war between Tebas and Rubiales
The war between Tebas and Rubiales

The Spanish sports council (CSD) was brought in as a mediator, but they felt this were conflicts that could be solved with the “good faith” of both organizations. From then on, the conflict between both institutions and their presidents has been quite public, and the “war” has extended its tentacles from the male football league to the female Spanish football competition. 

From Liga Iberdrola to Primera Iberdrola 

The 18/19 season, known as Liga Iberdrola, was organized by Tebas. Iberdrola – one of the biggest energy companies in Spain – and Mediapro were the main competition sponsor and broadcaster, respectively. Nearly all matches were broadcasted via Gol TV (for free) and #Vamos (with a pay-per-view subscription).

IMG 20200209 190328Women’s football in Spain was growing its popularity. In part, thanks to the match broadcasting, but also due to the promotion and investment from Iberdrola and the great work from players, (some) clubs, and media professionals. I am not saying it was a paradise. It had lots of aspects to be improved, but we could watch the games, and the league managed to develop enough to attract great international players and a growing mass of supporters.  

However, with the change of their president, the RFEF announced in March 2019 their intention to organize the league themselves. Why? They felt that both Tebas and the previous RFEF board were neglecting the competition. To what extent this was the real reason is open to question. Was the RFEF actually interested in developing women’s football? Or perhaps it was a way to take something from Tebas, who had been the organized up until then? 

CONSEQUENCE OF MOVE TO RFEF

The transition from Tebas to the RFEF competition was not made without conflict, nonetheless, the 16 teams that formed the competition inscribed themselves in Primera Iberdrola 19/20, now organized by the RFEF. The federation would, also, organize Reto Iberdrola and Primera Nacional, the 2nd and 3rd division of Spanish women’s football.

IMG 20200923 135309The change of organizer was accompanied by plenty of new conflicts: the broadcasting-rights war, the strike for a collective agreement, the compensation list conflict, the lack of interest, leadership and solutions during the COVID-19 pandemics as well as the massive delay in the start of 20/21 season to name a few. Instead of bringing growth and development, the RFEF take over has left a feeling of lack of interest and new obstacles to be overcome.

Most of the named conflicts have not yet been resolved, and we face a 20/21 season full of uncertainty, which could end with top players leaving the league in search of more professional and developing competitions. The only thing we are certain about is that we have Rubiales for 4 years more and that unless the league is legally declared professional, we will depend on his good faith to be able to enjoy our beloved teams.

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