Numerous members of the Spanish Women’s national football team announced their decision on Friday to abstain from participating in any matches for the nation until the football federation chief, Luis Rubiales, is addressed in a controversy linked to his kissing of player Jenni Hermoso on the lips following Spain’s World Cup triumph.
Rubiales, despite calls for resignation, expressed his refusal to step down earlier on Friday. His actions sparked consternation among players and government representatives, who condemned his conduct as inappropriate and misogynistic.
In a collective statement conveyed through their FUTPRO union, a total of 56 players, including Hermoso and the entire victorious 23-player squad, demanded the removal of the federation’s leadership.
The government lacks the authority to dismiss Rubiales, who leads the autonomous Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). However, the government intends to initiate suspension procedures through legal means, involving a sports tribunal, as stated by Victor Francos, the head of the state-administered sports council.
Francos remarked, “We hope that this incident serves as a ‘Me Too’ moment for Spanish soccer.”
Anticipated to resign during an emergency federation meeting on Friday, Rubiales opted instead to remain in his position, denouncing “false feminists” and resisting attempts to force his exit.
He characterized the kiss as an innocuous gesture that was “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric, and consensual,” referring to it as a “small peck.” Rubiales, 46, asserted that he would not relinquish his role and received applause from the predominantly male audience.
Throughout the week, criticisms of Rubiales’ behavior amplified. The incident occurred while medals were being presented to players following their victory over England in the World Cup final in Sydney, Australia.
Rubiales embraced Hermoso and kissed her on the mouth during the medal presentation.
Acting Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz condemned Rubiales’ speech as “unacceptable” and advocated for immediate action, asserting that impunity for such actions is no longer tolerated.
Acting Equality Minister Irene Montero emphasized the need for protection for Hermoso, prompting the state prosecutor and the sports council CSD to consider intervention.
Fifa initiated disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales in response to Hermoso’s statement that her union aimed to uphold her rights and ensure consequences for such acts.
Rubiales’ statements and the subsequent applause he received drew widespread criticism on social media platforms. Journalist Javier Gallego Crudo posted on social media, criticizing the assembly as a demonstration of patriarchy, wherein a man cornered by his own misogynistic actions shifted blame onto feminism and was applauded by other men.
The government initiated proceedings to bring the incident before a sports tribunal. If the kiss is proven to be non-consensual, Rubiales could face legal consequences under a sexual violence law enacted by the ruling Socialist party.
Gender-related concerns have gained prominence in Spain in recent times, with large-scale protests against sexual abuse and violence. The Socialist-led coalition government has introduced numerous legal reforms to address gender equality in various areas.
Rubiales maintained that Hermoso initiated the physical contact by lifting him and stated that he sought her consent for a “small peck,” which she agreed to.
Complete footage of the medal ceremony was not broadcast on Spanish television.
FIFPro, the football players union, communicated its request to Uefa to launch disciplinary procedures against Rubiales, who is also a vice-president at Uefa. Uefa refrained from commenting on the matter.
FIFPro President David Aganzo expressed embarrassment over having a president of the RFEF who clung to his position despite the ongoing controversy.
Reactions to the issue varied within the RFEF. Some members felt the situation was overblown, while others believed the matter was of utmost concern. Only around half of the membership attended the meeting.
Rubiales reportedly met with key federation members before the assembly to inform them of his decision not to resign. Rafael del Amo, president of the national committee for women’s football, was the sole dissenter and announced his intention to step down from his roles, including the vice presidency of the federation.