Spain’s government has started the legal proceedings seeking to suspend president of the Spanish football federation (RFEF) Luis Rubiales after he refused to resign after a week of growing pressure following his unsolicited kiss of Spain player Jenni Hermoso.
Rubiales, 46, announced the surprise move — after widespread reports that he planned to quit — in a speech in which he attempted to justify his behaviour, and lashed out at critics, during an extraordinary meeting of the federation’s general assembly.
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“The government starts today the procedure so that Mr Rubiales has to give explanations before the Sport Court and if the Sport Court agrees, I can announce that we will suspend Mr. Rubiales from his functions,” Victor Francos, head of the state-run National Sports Council told a news conference on Friday.
Earlier on Friday, Rubiales said: “Do you think this [incident] is so serious that I should go, after the best management in the history of Spanish football? Let me tell you: I’m not going to resign. I’m not going to resign. I’m not going to resign.
“I’ve come under a lot of pressure. Perhaps somebody will look to remove me on Monday. But we live in a country of laws. Is a consensual kiss enough to remove me? I’m going to fight until the end. I hope the law is followed, and that as there’s no reason to [remove me], it won’t happen.”
Rubiales gave a lengthy account of his actions following Spain’s victory in the Women’s World Cup final, which included grabbing his crotch in the immediate aftermath of the win, and the unsolicited kiss on Hermoso’s lips during the medal presentation ceremony.
“In a moment of euphoria, I grabbed that part of my body,” Rubiales said. “I was looking at [coach] Jorge Vilda. We’ve been through a lot this year. People have wanted to do the same to [Vilda] that people are doing to me, with a false narrative. We’ve suffered a lot. I got very emotional and lost control. … I must apologise to the Queen, the Infanta and the Royal Household. My sincere apologies.”
However Rubiales — who was elected RFEF president in 2018 — would not accept any wrongdoing regarding the kiss.
“My desire in that moment was exactly the same as if I’d have been kissing one of my daughters,” he said. “No more or less. Everybody understands that. It was a spontaneous kiss, mutual, euphoric and consensual. That’s the key.
“[Hermoso] had missed a penalty. I have a great relationship with all the players. … In the moment that Jenni arrived, she lifted me up off the ground. We almost fell over. We hugged. I said, ‘Forget about the penalty, you’ve been fantastic, we wouldn’t have won the World Cup without you.’ She said: ‘You’re great.’ I said, ‘A kiss?’ and she said: ‘Yes.’
“From ‘no big deal’ and all that, then the pressure starts, the silence of the player and a statement [from Hermoso] that I don’t understand. Justice isn’t being done here. This is a social assassination of me, they’re trying to kill me.”
Hermoso spoke out on the incident for the first time Wednesday, urging action in a joint statement with her players’ union, FUTPRO, and appealing to the RFEF to ensure the rights of the players.
“My union, FUTPRO, in coordination with my agency, TMJ, are taking care of defending my interests and being the interlocutors on this matter,” Hermoso said.
Meanwhile, Rubiales also went on to call his critics “false feminists.”
“We must know the difference between truth and lies,” he said. “I’m telling the truth. False feminism doesn’t look for justice or truth, it doesn’t care about people. … [Various politicians] have used terms like sexual violence, assault. What will women who have been sexually assaulted think of that?
“These people are trying to assassinate me and I’m going to defend myself. The false feminists destroy people. … The press, in the majority, will keep killing me but I know the truth, and what my family and the people who love me think. The truth is the truth.”
Following the speech, former Spain internationals posted on social media criticising Rubiales with David de Gea saying, “My ears are bleeding,” while Iker Casillas said, “Total embarrassment.”
Real Betis player Borja Iglesias also said he would not play for the men’s national team again as long as Rubiales was still in charge.
Rubiales’ behaviour after Spain’s World Cup win in Sydney led to criticism, both domestically and internationally, with FIFA announcing Thursday it would be beginning disciplinary proceedings.
Rubiales initially branded his critics “idiots” but later issued an apology.
Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, called that response “insufficient and inadequate” while acting second deputy prime minister Yolanda Diaz called for Rubiales to resign.
Rubiales has been a controversial figure throughout his tenure as head of Spanish football’s governing body.
He sacked Spain coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the men’s 2018 World Cup, and took the Spanish Supercopa to Saudi Arabia with then-active player Gerard Pique as a business partner.
The RFEF also faced criticism over its handling of the complaints of 15 Spain women’s national team players over coach Jorge Vilda and the federation’s support for the team.
Rubiales’ response was to back Vilda. Three of the 15 featured at the World Cup after some changes were made, while seven refused to participate and five were not selected.
Information from Reuters was included in this report.