President of the Spanish Soccer Federation under fire, resigns after unwanted kiss
Luis Rubiales, the head of the Spanish Soccer Federation, announced his resignation following backlash for nonconsensually kissing a player on the women’s team.
Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment and assault.
“I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part” is what Jennifer Hermoso stated on Aug. 25 after winning the Women’s World Cup final five days before. During the ceremony, she was nonconsensually kissed on the lips by Luis Rubiales, head of the Spanish Soccer Federation.
On Aug. 20, the Spanish women’s soccer team won their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in an excellent match against England. They won the match 1-0 with Captain Olga Carmen scoring the winning goal. After their win, they were presented with their medals and trophy. As the players went up to receive their medal, they were greeted by Luis Rubiales. As he greeted all the players with passionate hugs and cheek kisses, Rubiales nonconsensually kissed Hermoso on the lips. Many Spaniards took to social media to express their disgust and confusion with the incident. There was also a video released of Rubiales’ grabbing his crotch near Queen Letizia of Spain and her 16-year-old daughter while celebrating the win.
The next day, Rubiales released a video statement apologizing for his actions, stating, “I probably made a mistake.” He also apologized for his inappropriate behavior in the presence of the queen. That same Monday, Hermoso seemed to downplay the incident, describing it as “no big deal” and done in “the emotion of the moment.” Later that week on Friday, Aug. 25, Hermoso released her own statement to her social media accounts. She explained that her prior statement was a result of the federation’s pressure to alleviate criticism coming towards the president. Because of her desire to maintain the media’s focus on her team’s win, she agreed, stating that it was “not a big deal.” Hermoso also reiterated that this was a non-consensual act that she and Rubiales never discussed prior to the incident and that “no person, in any work, sports, or social setting, should be a victim of these types of nonconsensual behaviors.”
Many called for Rubiales’ resignation, including Spain’s main soccer federation, the Union of Professional Female Soccer Players, and several Spanish politicians. On the same day as the release of Hermoso’s statement, Rubailes refused to step down at the federation’s General Assembly. He repeated several times, “I will not resign!” as many applauded him, including Jorge Vilda, the Spanish women’s soccer coach that had just led them to victory. A day after both statements on Aug. 26, FIFA asked for the suspension of Rubiales for at least 90 days. He was barred from any FIFA related activities. Two days later, on Aug. 28, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, who had recently backed Rubiales’ statements, called for his resignation. The presidents stated, “[their] request that Luis Rubiales resign immediately as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation.” That same Monday, Spanish prosecutors began to look into the incident as a “potential act of sexual assault.” If proven guilty, Rubiales would face prison time.
As a result of the pressure from government officials including the prime minister, the women’s soccer team refusing to play, Spanish prosecution, and a case being opened by the Spanish Administrative Sports Court, Luis Rubiales has stepped down as President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. In a statement released on Sept. 10, Rubiales said, “After the rapid suspension carried out by FIFA, plus the rest of proceedings open against me, it is evident that I will not be able to return to my position.” He continues to insist that this is a “falsehood” and that the “truth is prevailing more everyday.” It is still developing as to how leadership and the women’s soccer team will proceed, but President Pedro Roach has taken Rubiales’ responsibilities since his suspension. Hermoso and other players have yet to make a statement regarding his resignation.
Amidst this situation, on Sept. 5, Jorge Vilda, the Spanish women’s soccer coach, was fired by the RFEF. The federation stated that “President Pedro Rocha has decided to dispense with the services of Jorge Vilda.”
Vilda is no exception to controversy. Since he began coaching in 2015, there have been several complaints made against Vilda including unfair wages, sexism, and “controlling behavior.” Last year, 15 star players refused to play if Vilda did not step down. The RFEF backed Vilda and forced the players to apologize, who complied. During Rubiales’ speech refusing to step down, as stated before, Vilda showed his support for his boss by applauding him as he refused to step down as president. Despite efforts to distance himself from Rubiales’ after public backlash, his stance was set.
Coach Montse Tomé was announced as his replacement that same day. She will be the first woman in Spain to hold this position and will begin her coaching this September.
The women’s soccer team has a game scheduled for Sept. 22 against Sweden. With Rubiales’ recent resignation, Spain hopes to see their team return to the field and the federation to rebuild itself for the upcoming match.