BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The embattled president of Spain’s soccer federation defiantly refused to step down Friday after insisting that a kiss on the lips with Women’s Soccer player Jenni Hermoso was consensual, an assertion that Hermoso strongly denied.
Meanwhile, all 22 of Hermoso’s fellow world champions, and 58 other Spanish players, announced they will no longer play for Spain if Luis Rubiales doesn’t resign.
Facing his possible removal from office, the 46-year-old Rubiales cast himself as the victim at an emergency meeting of the federation in Madrid.
“I won’t resign,” he declared four times in quick succession, to applause from the overwhelmingly male audience.
Rubiales, who was also chastised for grabbing his crotch after Spain’s 1-0 victory over England on Sunday, is under immense pressure to leave his post.
The kiss marred the title celebrations in front of a global audience, and criticism has steadily mounted. Spain’s acting prime minister, players unions, players for Spain’s women’s team, and even some players on men’s teams have said he must go.
Several Spanish news media outlets reported on Thursday that Rubiales would step down. Instead, he said on Friday that he is the victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists.”
While Rubiales held his ground, federation vice president Rafael del Amo, who had been in charge of women’s soccer, announced that he was resigning, followed by at least two other federation members. Del Amo had urged Rubiales to also resign.
Among those applauding Rubiales were women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente. 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.
In his speech to the assembly, 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.
Hermoso contradicted Rubiales’ version in a statement issued later through her FUTRPO players’ union. She said that she did not consent to the kiss and didn’t try to pick up the president.
“I won’t tolerate anyone putting in doubt my word and even more so that anyone invents words that I did not say,” she said.
The statement was signed by Hermoso, all 22 of her fellow world champions, and 58 other Spanish players. The players who signed the statement said they would no longer play for Spain “if the present leadership remains in charge.”
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 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.” Team captain Ivana Andrés and Olga Carmona, whose goal won the final, also joined in showing their support for Hermoso.
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 government planned to file a lawsuit Friday alleging that Rubiales violated the country’s sports laws, according to Víctor Francos, secretary of state for sports and head of Spain’s Higher Council for Sports. If Spain’s Administrative Court for Sports agrees to hear the suit, the council will suspend Rubiales temporarily pending the court’s ruling, Francos said.
If found guilty by the court for committing sexist acts, Rubiales could be ruled unfit to hold office. Francos said he would ask the court to move its regular Thursday meeting up to Monday.
Spanish soccer club Barcelona, which provided nine players for Spain’s team, said Rubiales’ behavior “was completely inappropriate.” Real Madrid said it supported the decision by the government to try to suspend Rubiales. 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 only relevant institution to remain silent has been European soccer body UEFA, for which Rubiales is a vice president. 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.
Rubiales made 339,000 euros ($365,000) in 2021 after taxes, for presiding over the federation with a budget of 382 million euros ($412 million). The federation runs Spain’s men’s and women’s national soccer teams and its semi-professional and amateur soccer leagues. It also organizes the referees for La Liga. The government maintains some oversight of the entity but it cannot name or remove its executives.
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.”