IN what was supposed to be a celebration of the greatest moment in women’s Spanish football, has morphed into a tsunami of rage and controversy with global repercussions not only for sport, but women’s rights.

During the ceremony following the World Cup final, Spanish forward Jenni Hermoso, 33, is first embraced and then forcibly kissed on the lips by Luis Rubiales, 46, the president of the Spanish football federation (RFEF).

Something Rubiales later referred to as “a peck.”

Hermoso then issued a statement during a live stream saying she “didn’t like” and “didn’t expect” it. It is clear the player was taken aback by the forced act of intimacy.

Rubiales subsequently admitted he had “made a mistake,” but criticism continued to pour in throughout the week from the media, soccer world and Spanish politicians, including Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, who said the apology for what he called an “unacceptable gesture” was “not enough.”

Under increasing criticism, Rubiales issues a tokenesque apology saying he “made a mistake” and was “sorry for those who were offended.”

Rubiales issued an impassioned justification of his actions at the final, saying: “Everyone there – even some of them my family, my daughters – the desire that could have been there in that kiss is exactly the same that could have been as giving a kiss to one of my daughters. No more, no less.

“It was a spontaneous kiss … It was spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and with consent, which is the key. This is the key to all of the criticism, of all of the campaign which has been mounted in this country: that it was without consent. No. It was with consent.”

Rubiales was seeking to console Hermoso for missing a penalty. “When Jenni first showed up, she lifted me up from the ground. She grabbed me by the hips, by the legs, I don’t remember well,” he said. “She lifted me up from the ground – and we almost fell down.

“And when she put me down on the ground, we hugged each other. She’s the one who picked me up in her arms and she pulled me into her body. We hugged and I told her, ‘Forget about the penalty. You were fantastic, we wouldn’t have won this World Cup without you.’ She replied to me, ‘You are awesome.’ And I said, ‘A small peck?’ And she said, ‘OK.’

“Then the peck happened during all of this celebration with her patting me on the side a few times and then excusing herself with one more hand on the side and going off laughing. That’s the whole sequence. That the whole world understood, that the whole world thought was an anecdote, and above all, she said was an anecdote and nothing more.”

World football’s governing body Fifa was quick to open disciplinary proceedings to examine Rubiales’ behaviour and subsequent response, citing he may have violated the game’s “basic rules of decent conduct.”

At the federation’s Extraordinary General Assembly Rubiales was defiant, if not arrogant, in denying any wrongdoing, stating he will “fight to the end.”

He described the kiss as “mutual” and spoke of a “witch hunt”,  “unjust” campaigns and “fake feminism” and emphatically said several times during the almost 30-minute address that he would not resign.

“… the thing with the kiss, which I said was free, was mutual, which was with consent, but obviously I still have to ask for forgiveness for the context in which it occurred. I’m not living outside of the world and I know that I made a mistake in this,” he said. “But do we think that this merits the witch hunt which I’m suffering? Do you really believe that?

“Another thing is what someone has to say publicly, but do you think it merits this hunt? So that they ask for my resignation? Is it so serious so that I have to leave having done the best leadership in the history of Spanish football?

“Do you think I have to resign? Well, I’m going to tell you something: I’m not going to resign! I’m not going to resign! I won’t resign! I’m not going to resign! I’m not going to resign!”

The Spanish government then joined the throng of those claiming injustice. It was considering its legal options to suspend Rubiales, with the Spanish secretary of sport saying he “wants this to be Spanish football’s MeToo moment”.

Hermoso, the victim of the unwanted kiss, emphatically contradicted Rubiales’ account, saying that “at no time… was his kiss ever consensual”.

Hermoso said Spain’s footballers association (FUTPRO) and her agency TMJ would be “defending my interests and acting as spokespersons on this matter.”

As a result, 81 Spanish players which included all 23 players who went to the Women’s World Cup, announced they will not play for Spain’s women’s team until Rubiales is removed from his position.

Global players’ union FIFPRO said it was again calling for “immediate disciplinary action” against Rubiales.

“We welcome FIFA’s decision to open an ethics case, and steps taken at national level in Spain. Furthermore, we have written to UEFA – the organisation of which Mr. Rubiales is a vice-president – requesting that it starts disciplinary proceedings,” it said in a statement.

“Any lack of action by authorities in addressing the conduct of Mr. Rubiales would send an entirely unacceptable and damaging message to the football industry and wider society.”

Spain’s men’s striker Borja Iglesias announced on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that he is not going back to the men’s national team following Rubiales’ comments.

“I’m sad and let down,” he wrote. “As a footballer and as a person I don’t feel represented by what happened today at the City of Football of Las Rozas. I think it’s despicable that they keep putting pressure and putting the spotlight on a colleague.

“Putting on the Spanish national team shirt is the biggest thing that’s happened in my career. I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to do so again, but I’ve made the decision to not go back to the National Team until things change and these type of acts do not go unpunished. For a more just, humane and decent football.”

Spain great Andrés Iniesta, a 2010 World Cup winner, said “after what has happened this week I would like to express my sadness, as a person, as a father of three girls, as a husband and as a soccer player.

“We have had to bear this president who clung to power, didn’t admit that his behaviour had been unacceptable and was damaging the image of our country and our soccer before the world,” Iniesta said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In a further twist best seen in a soap opera, the Spanish football federation has announced they will commence legal action against veteran striker Jenni Hermoso for her comments about its president Luis Rubiales.

The federation has responded once again, saying evidence supporting Rubiales version of events was “conclusive”.

“Mr President has not lied,” the federation said in a fresh statement.

“The RFEF and Mr President will demonstrate each of the lies that are spread either by someone on behalf of the player or, if applicable, by the player herself.

“The RFEF and the President, given the seriousness of the content of the press release from the Futpro union, will initiate the corresponding legal actions.”

The situation reached crisis point with the Spanish minister Maria Jesus Montero declaring “Rubiales cannot run Spanish soccer again,” a day after he was provisionally suspended by FIFA for 90 days.

“We had enough of him when he marred the great triumph of women’s soccer with his intolerable attitude.”

Rubiales was replaced by his vice president Pedro Rocha, who will act as interim chief in his absence.

Rocha has called an emergency meeting of the soccer federation’s regional heads to discuss the saga, when women’s groups will march in Madrid in support of Hermoso and women’s rights.

In a further development, Spain’s government is seeking Rubiales’ permanent removal in Spain’s Administrative Court for Sports. The court will consider the government’s lawsuit for an alleged abuse of power and for allegedly committing acts that tarnished the dignity and decorum of a sporting event.

Rubiales could be found unfit for to hold his position.

As if things could not become more bizarre, Rubiales’ mother has gone on a hunger strike because of the “inhuman hunt” against her son.

Angeles Bejar has locked herself in the Divina Pastora church in Motril, surrounded by the paparazzi, stating the strike would continue “indefinite, day and night”.

Bejar said the “inhuman and bloody hunt that they are doing with my son is something he does not deserve”.

Rubiales’ cousin Vanessa Ruiz, who acts as a family spokesperson in Motril, said: “We are suffering a lot for him. He has been judged before his time.

“They (media) don’t stop harassing us. We had to leave our house. We want them to leave us alone and for Jenni to tell the truth. It’s not fair.”

Meanwhile, Spain’s criminal court said it was beginning an investigation due to the “unequivocal nature” of Hermoso’s statements, in order to “to determine their legal significance”.

“Given the public statements made by Jennifer Hermoso, the sexual act she was subjected to by Luis Rubiales was not consensual,” a statement said.

Lawyers then contacted Hermoso, “to offer her the option of legal action, giving her the chance to contact National Court prosecutors within 15 days for information about her rights as a victim of an alleged sexual assault should she wish to file a complaint”.

“In order to proceed with a case for sexual assault, harassment or sexual abuse, it will be necessary for the injured party or their legal representative to file suit, or the public prosecutors’ office.”

Hermoso lodged a complaint of sexual assault but a further allegation of coercion may be added after she told the prosecutor her relatives had been pressured by Rubiales and his “professional entourage” to say she “justified and approved what happened”.

Whether the court will formally charge to Rubiales is yet to be seen. It will either go to trial or be dismissed.

Rubiales is a dead man walking. The ground swell of pressure for him to resign had been met with stubborn resistance and cries of innocence.

But the resistance has ceased. On the 10th of September, some twenty-one days since the infamous kiss, Rubiales has resigned.

Rubiales submitted his resignation to federation acting president Pedro Rocha.

He also resigned from his position as vice-president of Uefa’s executive committee.

“After the quick suspension carried out by FIFA, plus the rest of open proceedings against me, it is evident that I will not be able to return to my position,” Rubiales’ statement read.

“Insisting on waiting and holding on is not going to contribute to anything positive, neither to the federation nor to Spanish football.”

Rubiales hoped his resignation would help Spain’s joint bid with Morocco and Portugal to host the 2030 World Cup.

“I have faith in the truth and I will do everything in my power to prevail.

“My daughters, my family and the people who love me have suffered the effects of excessive persecution, as well as many falsehoods, but it is also true that on the street, more and more every day, the truth is prevailing.”

“I cannot continue my work,” he proclaimed in defeat.

Rubiales finally appeared in the high court over the fiasco. He was banned from going within 200m of Jenni Hermoso, as her World Cup-winning team-mates said they did not feel safe playing for the country.

Thirty-nine Spanish female players were united in safety concerns following a furore over Rubiales’ allegedly non-consensual kiss on Hermoso, in a collective statement of intent.

The players demanded further federation changes but did not clarify whether they would continue with a boycott of playing for the national team.

The statement, which includes the signatures of star names such as Hermoso, Alexia Putellas, Olga Carmona and former Manchester United player Ona Batlle, said: “We have transmitted to the (FA), the changes that have occurred are not enough for the players to feel in a safe place, where women are respected, there is a commitment to women’s football and where we can give our maximum performance.

“The players of the Spanish team are professional players, and what fills us most with pride is wearing the shirt of our team and always leading our country to the highest positions.

“For this reason, we believe that it is time to fight to show that these situations and practices have no place in our football or in our society and that the current structure needs changes. We do it so that the next generations can have a much more equal game that we all deserve.”

Spanish state prosecutors formally accused Rubiales last week of sexual assault and an act of coercion.

The state prosecutors’ office said Rubiales denied both accusations when answering questions by the judge in an hour-long hearing that was closed to the public.

Neither Rubiales nor his defence lawyer, Olga Tubau, spoke to the media outside the National Court.

Hermoso’s lawyer, Carla Vall i Duran, said they were satisfied with the hearing. “We can continue to affirm that the kiss was not consented to, which is what we have said from the very beginning,” Vall i Duran said.

“Thanks to the (images of the kiss), the entire world, the entire country, has been able to observe there was no type of consent. And we are going to prove that in the courtroom.”

And on it goes.

 

Image via Fox Sports

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