BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Spanish soccer player Jenni Hermoso said Friday that she “didn’t agree at any point”. a kiss on the lips by Football Association President Luis Rubiales.
Hermoso issued a statement through her union just hours after Rubiales claimed at an emergency meeting of the Spanish Football Federation that the kiss was consensual.
Facing his possible impeachment, Rubiales refused to step down, despite the uproar he caused with the kiss that took place during a medal ceremony last Sunday after the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney, Australia.
“I will not resign,” Luis Rubiales declared four times in quick succession at the meeting.
46-year-old Rubiales, who was also fined for grabbing his crotch afterwards Spain’s 1-0 win over England am Sonntag is under enormous pressure to give up his post.
The kiss marred the title celebrations in front of a worldwide audience and the criticism steadily mounted. Spain’s acting prime minister, players’ unions, Spain women’s team players and even some men’s team players have said he has to go.
Several Spanish news media reported on Thursday that Rubiales would resign. Instead, he remained defiant on Friday, claiming before the Federation Assembly that the kiss was “mutual and with the consent” of Hermoso and that he was the victim of a witch hunt by “fake feminists.”
He was applauded by the overwhelming male gathering.
While Rubiales held his ground, federation vice-president Rafael del Amo, who had been in charge of women’s football until then, announced his resignation, followed by at least two other federation members. Del Amo had asked Rubiales to resign as well.
Rubiales’ supporters included women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente. As of Friday’s gathering, he had received no public support in Spain as both left and right parties opposed him.
The Football Association initially responded to the scandal by releasing a statement in which Hermoso downplayed Rubiales’ action. However, sports website Relevo.com later reported that the federation forced her to make that statement. The association denied this to The Associated Press.
Hermoso had said in a video streamed on social media after the kiss last Sunday: “I didn’t like it but what can I do?” Later her players union issued a statement on her behalf It would defend her interests and ensure the act “does not go unpunished,” she said.
Speaking to Friday’s gathering, Rubiales said Hermoso “picked me up” in a solemn gesture and asked her for “a little kiss.” and she “said yes.”
“The kiss was the same one I could give to one of my daughters,” Rubiales said.
The televised medal ceremony missed the first few moments of Rubiales congratulating Hermoso. But it shows that his feet were on the ground before he held her face and kissed her.
Hermoso contradicted Rubiales’ version in a statement later issued by their players’ union FUTRPO. She said, “At no point did I consent to the kiss he gave me, and at no point did I attempt to lift the President.”
“I will not suffer anyone to question my word, let alone invent words I did not say.”
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 action”.
“Impunity for macho actions is over,” said Díaz. “Rubiales cannot continue in office.”
Alexia Putellas, Hermoso’s teammate and two-time Ballon d’Or winner for best player in the world, posted a message of support on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“This is unacceptable,” wrote the Barcelona player. “I agree with you my teammate Jenni Hermoso.”
Other teammates quickly followed.
Aitana Bonmatí, the Spain midfielder who was named the best player at the Women’s World Cup, said on X: “There are lines that you cannot cross and we cannot tolerate that. We are with our teammate team captain Ivana Andrés and Olga Carmona, whose goal won the final, also showed their support for Hermoso.
The president of the Spanish Women’s League, Beatriz Álvarez, told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE that she was not surprised because Rubiale’s “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.”
The Spanish government plans to file a lawsuit on Friday accusing Rubiales of violating the country’s sports laws, according to Víctor Francos, Secretary of State for Sport and head of Spain’s Higher Council for Sport. If the Spanish Administrative Court of Sport agrees to hear the lawsuit, the council will temporarily suspend Rubiales pending the court’s decision, Francos said.
Should the court find him guilty of sexist acts, Rubiales could be declared unfit for office. Francos said he will ask the court to move its regular Thursday session to Monday.
“Mr Rubiales’ speech to the General Assembly of the Spanish Football Federation is absolutely incompatible with the representation of Spanish sport and with the values of a progressive society like that of Spain,” the Supreme Council for Sport said in a written statement.
Spanish football club Barcelona, who provided nine players for the Spanish team, called Rubiales’ behavior “completely inappropriate”. Seville demanded his resignation. Espanyol also joined the criticism.
FIFA, the governing body of football, opened disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales on Thursday. The FIFA Disciplinary Committee will decide whether Rubiales has violated its code regarding “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 did not give a timeline for the verdict.
The FIFA probe comes after Spain’s acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez said earlier this week that Rubiales’ attempt to apologize – after initially insulting his critics – had been unconvincing “He needs to take further steps.”
Dutch-based players’ union FIFPRO, which had already called for action against Rubiales, reiterated its position after his speech to Parliament.
The only relevant institution that is silent is the European football association UEFA, of which Rubiales is vice-president. FIFPRO asked UEFA to initiate its own disciplinary proceedings.
Rubiales, who led the Spanish players’ union for eight years before taking over as association president in 2018, is currently leading the UEFA-backed bid to host the men’s World Cup in 2030. Spain is bidding alongside neighbors Portugal and Morocco and possibly also with Ukraine.
Rubiales earned €339,000 (US$365,000) after tax in 2021 for presiding over the €382 million (US$412 million) budget federation. The federation operates the Spain men’s and women’s national football teams, as well as its semi-professional and amateur football leagues. It also organizes the referees for La Liga. While the government exercises some oversight over the company, it cannot appoint or remove its executives.
Just before the kiss, Rubiales grabbed his crotch in a victory gesture while Queen Letizia of Spain and 16-year-old Princess Sofía stood nearby.
He apologized for it, saying it was a moment of “euphoria” and directed at Vilda on the pitch.
The first members of Spain’s men’s football elite gave their views on Rubiales on Thursday when it looked like he might be eliminated. Her reproachful words continued to filter in after Rubiales’ diatribe on Friday.
“What an embarrassment,” ex-Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas said on X. “We should have spent the last five days talking about our players, about the joy they’ve given us all!” About how proud we are that instead they gave us a title that we didn’t have in women’s football…”
Borja Iglesias, Real Betis forward who has occasionally been called up for Spain national team, said he will not play for his country again ‘until things change’.