In a shocking speech on Friday, the president of Spain’s football federation refused to quit for kissing a female player while celebrating the World Cup victory.
Luis Rubiales was widely expected to step down during an emergency meeting of Spain’s football federation. Instead, he insisted he was the victim of a witch-hunt, gave lessons about “real feminism,” and vowed to take legal action against Spanish politicians for accusing him of misconduct.
Last Sunday marked a triumphant moment for Spain’s women’s football team as they won the World Cup for the first time. But the victory was soon mired in scandal after Rubiales grabbed the face of midfielder Jennifer Hermoso and planted a kiss on her lips during the celebrations.
Through her union, she later released a statement condemning his behavior.
Rubiales, however, said that “the peck, not a kiss” was consensual. “She was the one who hugged me … that’s the truth,” he said, insisting that it had nothing to do with “desire or domination.”
Rubiales was also filmed grabbing his genitals as a means of celebrating the women’s victory. During the vulgar move, he was standing next to Queen Letizia of Spain and her 16-year-old daughter Infanta Sofia. He apologized for that on Friday.
He said he was looking at coach Jorge Vilda and made the gesture to honor the coach for winning. “We’ve gone through so much … they wanted to do the same to you as they did to me,” Rubiales said, referring to last year’s attempt by the female players of team Spain to force Vilda to resign.
“We’ve suffered a lot. We’ve been through a lot,” Rubiales said, looking at Vilda, later saying he was giving him a raise to €500,000 a year and ensuring he would remain the coach of the women’s team for the next four years.
“Men were champions too, it wasn’t just women,” he said.
Rubiales also ranted against “false feminism” that does not seek the truth but instead tries to get him fired. He said he would take legal action against Spanish ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, for accusing him of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Pressure on Rubiales
Facing mounting criticism from Spanish politicians and the media, Rubiales released a remorseful video on Monday. “We saw it as something natural, normal, and not in bad faith, but there are people who have been hurt by this, and I have to apologize. There’s no other way, is there?” he asked.
A day later, acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the apology did not go far enough and that the scandal shows Spain “still has a long way to go in terms of equality.”
Reports also emerged that Rubiales pressured Hermoso, the player he kissed, to appear at his side in the apology video.
The next day, Hermoso’s union Futpro released a statement in her name, saying it condemns “conduct that violates the dignity of women” and vowed to ensure such acts "do not go unpunished." Amnesty International, Spanish politicians and the women’s soccer league Liga F added to the pressure.
“One of the greatest achievements in the history of Spanish sport was tarnished by the shameful behavior of the highest representative of Spanish football,” said Liga F. “It is an unprecedented international embarrassment.”
On Thursday, not only did FIFA open disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales, but Spanish minister Felix Bolanos announced that the government would intervene if Rubiales retained his position as Spain’s football chief.
Spain’s football community reacts
In the wake of his controversial speech, members of Spain’s football community began speaking out on social media.
“This is unacceptable. It’s over. I’m with you Jenni Hermoso,” tweeted Alexia Putellas, who played on Spain’s winning team and has won several of the top prizes for being the world’s best female player.
Several other high-profile Spanish women’s football players, including those who refused to continue playing on the national team because of the toxic situation, also backed her.
“We’re with you Jenni. It’s a shame that it’s had to come to this point for people to believe our complaints,” tweeted footballer Nerea Eizagirre.
Male players also spoke out. While star player Iker Casillas called the speech “cringey,” member of Spain’s national team Borja Iglesias said “wearing the Spanish jersey is the best thing that’s ever happened in my career… but I’ve made the decision not to return to Spain's national team until things change."
Rubiales’ long-time nemesis, Javier Tebas, president of Spain’s La Liga, also did not mince his words. “His trick of playing the victim has worked too many times, but this time it’s simply ridiculous. It is impossible to attribute his misogynistic and despicable behavior to any absurd plot,” Tebas tweeted, adding that “the list of men and women who have been wronged by Rubiales over the years is too long.”
Meanwhile, Rafael del Amo, president of the Women’s Football Commission within the Spanish football federation, also announced he was stepping down.
Javier Landet, head of the Basque Country chapter, also sent in his resignation.
One of the only voices that voiced support for Rubiales was Luis Enrique, former head coach of Spain’s men's team. He said his management was “outstanding” and that he’s “admitted his mistake.”
After the speech, members of the government and Superior Sports Council (CSD) said they would take urgent measures to try and oust Rubiales.
Not his only scandal
Rubiales was elected president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation in 2018, and his crude celebrations were not the only controversy of his tenure.
In one of his first actions, he fired Julen Lopetegui, the head coach of Spain’s men’s team, a day before the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In 2022, the Spanish daily El Confidencial published leaked documents and audio files that included conversations between Rubiales and Gerard Pique – a former Barcelona player and Shakira’s ex-partner. The conversations suggested that the two agreed to split millions of euros to take Spain’s Supercopa tournament to Saudi Arabia.
That case is still under investigation, and he is also accused of other misconduct.
During his speech on Thursday, Rubiales said the “dozens” of complaints and allegations against him were all invented as part of the witch-hunt against him.
“They’re trying to kill me,” he said of so-called “false feminists” and the press, which he accused of being biased against him.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid said in a statement: "Our club fully supports the decision taken by Víctor Francos, the president of the Spanish Sports Council, who will immediately refer this case to the Administrative Sports Court," Real Madrid said in a statement
"Real Madrid is entirely confident that from now on the actions taken by the relevant competent bodies, in this case the Spanish Sports Council, will be carried out" it added.