Spanish soccer president refuses to resign despite kissing a player on the lips at Women’s World Cup

Sports News

“I didn’t like it, but what can I do?”

FILE – President of Spain’s soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, right, hugs Spain’s Aitana Bonmati on the podium following Spain’s win in the final of Women’s World Cup soccer against England at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. At left is Spain’s Princess Infanta Sofia. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File) AP

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Facing his possible removal from office, the president of the Spanish soccer federation refused to resign Friday despite the uproar he caused when he kissed a player on the lips without her consent after the Women’s World Cup final.

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Luis Rubiales is under immense pressure to leave his post because of his conduct after Spain’s 1-0 victory over England on Sunday. Criticism has steadily mounted, with Spain’s acting prime minister, players’ unions, Spain’s women players, and even voices from inside men’s soccer saying he must go.

But Rubiales was defiant at an emergency general assembly of the federation.

“I won’t resign,” he declared four times in quick succession. He claimed he was a victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists.”

Several Spanish news media outlets had reported on Thursday that the 46-year-old Rubiales was planning to step down after grabbing and kissing Jenni Hermoso during the awards ceremony in Sydney, Australia, an action that marred the title celebrations in front of a global audience.

But on Friday, he did the opposite, insisting that the kiss was “mutual and with the consent” of Hermoso and painting himself as a victim. He was applauded by the overwhelming male assembly. Among those supporting his refusal to step down were women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente.

The soccer federation first responded to the scandal by releasing a statement in which Hermoso downplayed Rubiales’ action. Later, however, sports website reported that the federation had coerced her into making the statement.

The federation denied this to The Associated Press. But on Friday, federation vice president Rafael del Amo, who had been in charge of women’s soccer, announced he was stepping down. Others also later resigned.

Hermoso had said in a video streamed on social media after the kiss last Sunday that “I didn’t like it, but what can I do?” Later, her players’ union issued a statement on her behalf saying that it would defend her interests and ensure that the act “does not go unpunished.”

In his speech to the assembly on Friday, 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.

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 is 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.

Aitana Bonmatí, the Spain midfielder named the best player of the Women’s World Cup, said on X: “There are limits that you cannot cross and we cannot tolerate this. We are with our teammate.”

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 Higher Council of Sports, the nation’s governing sports body, responded to Rubiales on Friday by saying it was immediately referring the complaints it has received from two federation assembly members, Spain’s women’s league and Díaz’s political party to Spain’s Administrative Court for Sports. Rubiales could be deemed unfit to hold office if the court finds that he violated laws or regulations sanctioning sexist acts.

“The speech by Mr. Rubiales before the general assembly of the Spanish soccer federation is absolutely incompatible with representing Spanish sports and with the values of an advanced society like Spain’s,” the council said.

Barcelona, which provided nine players for Spain’s team, said Rubiales’ behavior “was completely inappropriate.” Sevilla called for his resignation. Espanyol also joined in the criticism.

FIFA, the governing body of soccer, opened a disciplinary case against Rubiales on Thursday. The FIFA disciplinary committee will decide whether Rubiales violated its code relating to “the basic rules of decent conduct” or behaved “in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”

Disciplinary judges can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport. FIFA gave no timetable for the ruling.

FIFA’s investigation came after Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said earlier this week that Rubiales’ attempt to apologize — after he first insulted his critics — was unconvincing and that “he must continue taking further steps.”

The Netherlands-based FIFPRO player’s union, which had already demanded action against Rubiales, reiterated its position after his assembly speech. The union said it welcomed the moves by FIFA and Spain.

The only relevant institution to remain silent has been European soccer body UEFA, for which Rubiales is a vice president. 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. 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.

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.”