BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Less than a week after winning the Women’s World Cup, Spain’s national team players announced Friday that they will not play any more games unless the president of the country's soccer federation steps down for kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips after their victory.
Luis Rubiales, who was also chastised for grabbing his crotch after Spain’s 1-0 victory over England on Sunday, remained defiant despite immense pressure to resign. The kiss marred the title celebrations in Sydney, Australia, on Sunday, and criticism has steadily mounted.
Hermoso issued a statement Friday strongly rebuking Rubiales' characterization of the kiss as consensual, while the 46-year-old federation president cast himself as the victim at an emergency general assembly of the federation in Madrid.
“I won’t resign,” he declared four times in quick succession, to applause from the overwhelmingly male audience.
Several Spanish news media outlets reported on Thursday that Rubiales would step down. Instead, he said on Friday that he is the victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists.”
While Rubiales held his ground, federation vice president Rafael del Amo, who had been in charge of women’s soccer, announced that he was resigning, followed by at least two other federation members. Del Amo had urged Rubiales to also resign.
Among those applauding Rubiales were women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente. Until Friday’s assembly, he had received no public support in Spain, with political parties from both the left and the right speaking out against him.
In his speech to the gathering, Rubiales said Hermoso “lifted me up” in a celebratory gesture and he asked her for “a little kiss?” and she “said yes.”
“The kiss was the same I could give one of my daughters,” Rubiales said.
The televised broadcast of the medals ceremony didn’t show the first moments when Rubiales congratulated Hermoso. But it does show that his feet were on the ground before he held her face and kissed her.
Hermoso contradicted Rubiales’ version in two statements, one issued through her FUTRPO players union and a second published on social media.
She said that she did not consent to the kiss or try to pick up the president, and that there was no conversation like the one described by Rubiales.
“I won’t tolerate anyone doubting my word and even less someone putting words in my mouth,” she said.
In a second statement, Hermoso said the kiss “left me in a state of shock.”
"I believe that no person in any workplace should be the victim of this type of nonconsensual behavior,” she added.
Hermoso also accused the federation of pressuring her and her family to speak out in Rubiales' defense. The federation previously denied a report that it forced her to make a statement downplaying the kiss shortly after it happened.
After a full day of accusations and counteraccusations between Hermoso and Rubiales, the federation issued a statement early Saturday saying that its president did not lie and that he and the organization would take legal action against Hermoso and her union. The statement included photos that it said show Hermoso lifting Rubiales off the ground during the medals ceremony.
The FUTPRO statement signed by Hermoso, her 22 teammates, and more than 50 other Spanish players said they would no longer play for Spain “if the present leadership remains in charge.”
Rubiales said he would defend his honor in court against politicians, including two ministers, who called his kiss an act of sexual violence. One of them was acting Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, who urged the government to take “urgent measures.”
"Impunity for macho actions is over,” Díaz said. “Rubiales cannot continue in office.”
Alexia Putellas, Hermoso’s teammate and a two-time Ballon d’Or winner as the best player in the world, posted a message of support on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“This is unacceptable," the Barcelona player wrote. "I'm with you, my teammate, Jenni Hermoso.”
Other teammates quickly followed, along with players from abroad.
“I’m disgusted by the public actions of Luis Rubiales," U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan said on X. She added that winning a World Cup "should be one of the best moments in these players’ lives but instead it’s overshadowed by assault, misogyny, and failures by the Spanish federation.”
The president of Spain’s women’s league, Beatriz Álvarez, told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE that she was not surprised because Rubiales’ “ego is above his dignity.”
“What surprises and scandalizes me are his words,” Álvarez said. “Every time he speaks he shows what kind of person he really is.”
Spain’s government planned to file a lawsuit Friday alleging that Rubiales violated the country's sports laws, according to Víctor Francos, secretary of state for sports and head of Spain’s Higher Council for Sports. If Spain's Administrative Court for Sports agrees to hear the suit, the council will suspend Rubiales pending the court's ruling, Francos said.
If found guilty by the court for committing sexist acts, Rubiales could be ruled unfit to hold office. Francos said he would ask the court to move its regular Thursday meeting up to Monday.
Iberia airlines, a major sponsor of the federation, said it supported the government’s initiative to “protect the rights and dignity of our athletes.”
About 100 people, mostly women, gathered Friday night in front of the Spanish soccer federation's headquarters in Madrid to call for Rubiales' resignation, many waving red cards used by soccer referees to expel players from games.
“What has to happen now is his resignation and the resignation of everyone who applauded him," said 39-year-old protester Alma Doña. “The federation needs to be reformed and women’s soccer should have more support.”
Spanish soccer club Barcelona, which provided nine players for Spain’s team, said Rubiales' behavior “was completely inappropriate.” Real Madrid said it supported the government's decision to try to suspend Rubiales. Sevilla called for his resignation. Athletic Bilbao said it was renouncing its seat on the federation’s board and backed the government’s decisions. Osasuna slammed Rubiales, calling him “rude and sexist.” Espanyol, Valencia, and Celta Vigo also issued statements against Rubiales, as did Spanish league president Javier Tebas.
FIFA, the governing body of soccer, opened a disciplinary case against Rubiales on Thursday. Disciplinary judges can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport.
The Netherlands-based FIFPRO player’s union, which had already demanded action against Rubiales, reiterated its position after his assembly speech.
The only relevant institution to remain silent has been European soccer body UEFA, for which Rubiales is a vice president. FIFPRO urged UEFA to open its own disciplinary case.
Rubiales, who led the Spanish players union for eight years before taking over as federation president in 2018, is currently heading the UEFA-backed bid to host the men’s World Cup in 2030. Spain is bidding with neighboring Portugal and Morocco, and also possibly Ukraine.
Rubiales made 339,000 euros ($365,000) in 2021 after taxes, for presiding over the federation with a budget of 382 million euros ($412 million). The federation runs Spain’s men’s and women’s national soccer teams and its semi-professional and amateur soccer leagues. It also organizes the referees for La Liga. The government maintains some oversight of the entity but it cannot name or remove its executives.
Shortly before the kiss, Rubiales grabbed his crotch in a victory gesture, with Queen Letizia of Spain and 16-year old Princess Sofía standing nearby.
He offered an apology for that, saying it was in a moment of “euphoria” and directed toward Vilda on the field.
The first members of the elite in Spanish men's soccer spoke out against Rubiales on Thursday, when it looked like he was bowing out. Their words of reproach continued to trickle in after Rubiales' diatribe on Friday.
“What an embarrassment,” former Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas said on X. “We should have spent the last five days talking about our women players, about the joy they gave us all! About how proud we are that they gave us a title that we didn’t have in women’s soccer, instead …”
Real Betis forward Borja Iglesias, who has occasionally been called up for Spain’s national team, said he would not play for his country again “until things change.”
Associated Press reporter Alicia León in Madrid contributed to this report.
AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup
Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press