Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales’ unwanted kiss on Women’s World Cup Winner Jenni Hermoso has triggered a crisis in Spanish soccer, with world governing body FIFA suspending the president and Spain’s women’s coaches resigning en masse.
FIFA said it was suspending Rubiales from “all football-related activities at national and international level” for 90 days while disciplinary proceedings are underway, deepening a scandal that tainted a historic victory for the women’s team.
Rubiales says the kiss was consensual and has refused to resign over the incident despite fierce criticism from Hermoso, her teammates and the Spanish government.
Hermoso said the kiss was unwanted and she and the entire World Cup-winning squad have refused to play while Rubiales remains president.
“I did not like this incident,” she wrote in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter. “I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist out of place act without any consent on my part.”
The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has stood by the president, threatening legal action against Hermoso and others.
FIFA also banned Rubiales and the Spanish football federation from contacting Hermoso, to preserve her “fundamental rights.” Following the kiss – seen by millions of viewers around the world – Hermoso said she had been asked to “alleviate the pressure” on Rubiales.
After the news of the FIFA ruling, the RFEF named an interim president and said that Rubiales maintained his innocence.
“Rubiales has said he will defend himself before the pertinent agencies and fully confides in the work of FIFA, and reiterates that, in this way, he will have the opportunity to begin his defense so that the truth prevails and his full innocence is shown,” a statement from the federation said.
‘I felt vulnerable’
FIFA’s suspension comes after the scandal escalated further when Spain’s soccer federation threatened to take legal action against Hermoso, accusing the 33-year-old athlete of lying about being kissed by Rubiales.
“The evidence is conclusive. The President has not lied,” the federation said, alongside descriptions of photos attempting to support Rubiales’ claim.
The federation also said players had “an obligation” to participate in matches “if they are called for it,” after all 23 members of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad, including Hermoso, and nearly 50 other professional women soccer players, said they would not play again for the country until Rubiales is removed from his position.
On Saturday, the federation doubled down on its accusations of lying against Hermoso. In a since deleted statement, the RFEF said, “We have to state that Ms. Jennifer Hermoso lies in every statement she makes against the president” and again threatened legal action. It is unclear why the RFEF chose to delete the statement from its website.
On Friday, Rubiales gave a defiant speech, saying several times he would not stand down, speaking of “unjust” campaigns and “fake feminism.” He also called the kiss, which took place after Hermoso collected her winners’ medal, “mutual” and described a conversation in which he asked the athlete for a “small peck” and she consented.
Responding to the speech, Hermoso said in her statement on X that “at no time did the conversation to which Mr. Luis Rubiales refers to in his address take place, and above all, was his kiss ever consensual.” She added that she “felt vulnerable” and “was not respected.”
She also described refusing requests to issue a statement to “alleviate the pressure” on Rubiales, saying she had been “under continuous pressure to make a statement that could justify Mr. Luis Rubiales’ actions.”
The fallout over Rubiales’ behavior has built throughout the week, casting a spotlight on gender rights and sexism in a country that has seen huge marches against sexual abuse and violence.
Mass exodus among Spain’s women’s coaching ranks
Eleven members of the Spanish national women’s soccer program jointly announced their resignation Saturday. The announcement was shared by Spain’s women’s U20 coach Sonia Bermúdez.
The resignations included most of the women’s national team coaching staff, including assistant coaches Montserrat Tomé Vázquez, Eugenio Gonzalo and Javier Lerga. Women’s national team head coach Jorge Vilda did not resign.
In their statement, the group cited several reasons that led to their decision to quit and expressed their “strongest and deepest condemnation” of Rubiales’s behavior.
The statement referenced Rubiales’ “unacceptable attitudes and statements,” and pointed out that the explanation he offered on Friday “does not reflect in any way what was felt by (Hermoso), who expressly said that she felt to be ‘the victim of an aggression.’”
The coaches also said they were instructed to attend the RFEF assembly where Rubiales announced his intention to stay in his post, and that “various of the women members of the coaching staff were required to sit in the front row” in an effort to give the impression that they supported the embattled president.
The group of coaches added that they stand in support of the recent statements made by Hermoso and the statement published by the group of more than 80 Spanish female footballers via FutPro refusing to play for Spain until Rubiales is removed as RFEF president.
Meanwhile, Spain’s men’s national team head coach Luis de la Fuente also issued a statement Saturday condemning the actions and behavior of Rubiales.
De la Fuente criticized the “wrong and out-of-place behavior by the RFEF President” and said that Rubiales’ actions were “not appropriate for someone who was representing the entirety of Spanish football.”
“I hope that this unfortunate episode is concluded quickly for the good of Spanish football and that the competent bodies resolve and take the pertinent decisions as soon as possible,” de la Fuente wrote in his statement.
The first-year national team coach concluded, “Finally, I state my disappointment because the events we are experiencing cloud the image of Spanish football, at home and abroad.”
In the immediate aftermath of the kiss Sunday, Rubiales, admitted he “made a mistake”.
Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the apology for what he described as an “unacceptable gesture” was “not enough.” The government has begun a process that would allow them to remove him from his post.
Piling pressure on Rubiales and the federation, some of the team sponsors expressed support for the players. The Spanish women are next due to play in September.
Hermoso and the team have also seen widespread support from across the soccer world, including from England’s women’s team, who Spain defeated in the final.