Luis Rubiales is fighting to remain the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) despite increasing pressure to resign from various sporting bodies and the government following his behaviour after the Women’s World Cup final earlier this month.
Rubiales, 46, finally lost the RFEF’s support this week after FIFA provisionally suspended him from all football activity for 90 days. That left a committee of the federation’s regional presidents in charge, and on Monday, they called for him to quit.
Criminal proceedings are also underway after his unsolicited kiss of Spain national team star Jenni Hermoso. Rubiales says there was consent, but Hermoso refutes that claim and says she felt “the victim of assault.” Rubiales has also been condemned for other actions during the celebrations after Spain beat England in Sydney, including grabbing his crotch, kissing other players and carrying another over his shoulder, but the incident with Hermoso is the subject of the legal case.
Rubiales’ five years in the top job at the RFEF have been marked by controversial incidents and allegations against him, from sacking the coach of the men’s national team, Julen Lopetegui, after one month in the role through to a high-profile dispute with the women’s team last September.
With proceedings now open on various fronts into his conduct, ESPN looks at what could happen next, as well as the possible repercussions for Rubiales.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there are two parallel processes going on here. While disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales are underway in a sporting sense — both internationally via FIFA, and with the Spanish government’s attempt to have Rubiales removed — there is also the possibility of a criminal case and a subsequent criminal penalty.
Spanish prosecutors announced on Monday that they had begun a preliminary investigation into Rubiales’ conduct and would be offering Hermoso the opportunity to file a complaint against him. The player has two weeks to decide whether to participate.
Prosecutors will point to Hermoso’s statement last week, in which she denied that Rubiales’ kiss was consensual and said she “felt vulnerable and the victim of an assault.” That suggests a potential offence of sexual assault, if Hermoso decides to press charges.
“The behaviour of Rubiales could be deemed as sexual harassment on the basis of current Spanish legislation,” lawyer Ignacio Alvarez Serrano, an associate at Gomez-Acebo & Pombo abogados, told ESPN. “[The legislation] punishes such misconduct with 1-2 years in prison, and 18-24 months of professional disqualification. … The problem in Spain is that this kind of misconduct is not usually reported to the police by victims because they are scared to lose their jobs.”
In the event of a successful prosecution, Rubiales would be unlikely to do jail time: Prison sentences under two years are usually suspended in Spain if the guilty party has no criminal record and does not re-offend.
Of course, this incident took place in Australia, but Spanish law allows for acts committed overseas to be prosecuted in Spanish courts, if the parties involved are Spanish nationals and the conduct in question is also an offence in the country where it took place. — Kirkland
There are multiple ways in which Rubiales could be forced to leave his position. Excluding his resignation, the quickest would be via a vote of no confidence presented to the RFEF’s general assembly, the same body that applauded Rubiales’ dramatic non-resignation on Friday. The assembly is made up of the 19 presidents of Spain’s regional federations, as well as elected representatives of clubs, players, coaches and referees, with 140 members in total. Forty-six of those 140 members would need to propose the no-confidence motion, with an absolute majority required to approve it.
Meanwhile, the Spanish government, via its Supreme Sports Council (CSD), is also seeking his removal. The CSD filed a complaint with the country’s Administrative Sports Court (TAD), which requested more documentation before deciding whether to take on the complaint. In this sense, the case centres on the new Sports Law in Spain, which was approved in 2022. Articles 4 and 5 of the Law focus on the promotion of equality in sport, discrimination, sexual abuse and harassment based on gender or from positions of authority.
“[The outcome] seems very difficult to predict, even for lawyers,” Alvarez Serrano told ESPN. “The lawsuit filed by the CSD seems to me to be a pressure measure, aimed at forcing Rubiales to quit. It’s very convoluted because the RFEF is not a public institution, and the authorities are not legally able to remove Rubiales with a single, quick administrative decision.”
Outside Spain, UEFA — which has been silent so far on the matter — and FIFA could also step in. — Marsden
Rubiales is one of UEFA’s vice presidents and is on the organisation’s executive committee. However, it has yet to provide any official comment on the issue.
On Monday, though, sources told ESPN that UEFA will not comply with the Spanish federation’s request (made before Rubiales was suspended) for sanctions due to government interference. Such sanctions would have barred Spanish teams from competitions such as the UEFA Champions League — in essence, ruining Spanish football to preserve Rubiales — and could have swayed public opinion in favour of letting Rubiales keep his job. That last-ditch request was made on Friday, when Rubiales was still in charge, but the RFEF’s regional presidents have now asked for it to be withdrawn given Rubiales’ suspension.
Sources add that UEFA is leaving the disciplinary process in the hands of FIFA because Rubiales’ actions took place at a FIFA event.
FIFA launched disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales on Thursday. On Saturday, it provisionally suspended him from all football and ordered him to avoid contacting Hermoso for 90 days while the investigation is carried out. Reports suggest it could ban him for up to 15 years, which is the maximum possible time per FIFA’s statutes. — Marsden
Spain’s World Cup-winning squad have been unanimous in their support for Hermoso and their insistence on change at the RFEF. All 23 members of the squad co-signed a statement on Friday — joined by 58 other current and former players — saying they would not return to play for the national team again “if current management continues.” That came after the infamous letter sent to the RFEF last year, when 15 players made themselves unavailable while coach Jorge Vilda remained in charge. From there, 12 of them missed the World Cup, with seven maintaining their refusal to be selected.
The latest players’ boycott brings a sense of urgency to proceedings, because Spain have two important fixtures coming up next month: UEFA Nations League matches against Sweden in Gothenburg on Sept. 22, and Switzerland in Cordoba on Sept. 26. These games matter, because the Nations League dictates which teams qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. UEFA’s three slots go to France (as hosts) and the two Nations League finalists.
The identity of Spain’s coach for those matches is also open to question. Vilda — as well as his men’s counterpart, Luis de la Fuente — has been criticised for applauding Rubiales’ “I’m not going to resign” speech on Friday. That speech also contained a surprise offer of a new, four-year contract for Vilda earning €500,000 a year. But 11 members of Vilda’s coaching staff resigned in protest at Rubiales’ actions, and Vilda himself has since put out a statement distancing himself from his now suspended boss.
There have been reports that those in temporary charge at the RFEF will favour a clean slate and fresh start for the women’s team with a new coach, allowing for a reconciliation with the players, but there’s nothing official yet. — Kirkland
Rubiales has not spoken since Friday’s speech at the RFEF assembly, when he emphatically refused to step down, shouting “I will not resign” five times.
What he does next will depend on the action that is taken against him. He first must decide whether to quit as RFEF president after losing the support of the regional presidents. Given his stance last week, that seems unlikely, but as he becomes increasingly isolated, he may have little choice. Meanwhile, as mentioned above, prosecutors in Spain have opened a preliminary sex abuse investigation into the incident. However, for the enquiry to move forward, Hermoso must press charges against Rubiales. As of Tuesday, she has not taken legal action.
Rubiales has pledged to fight “until the end” to clear his name, blaming “false feminists” and a campaign against him for the reaction to his behaviour after the World Cup final. His mother, Ángeles Béjar, has retaliated against his treatment and gone on hunger strike in a church in his hometown of Motril, Andalusia. On Tuesday, 24 hours into her strike, she said she “did not mind dying” for justice for her son, saying he has been subject to an “inhuman, bloodthirsty witch hunt.” — Marsden
The RFEF’s belated attempts at damage limitation began on Monday. FIFA’s provisional suspension of Rubiales left a committee of the federation’s regional presidents at the helm, and after a six-hour meeting, it released a statement with a very different tone to those issued by the RFEF in the previous week.
The committee requested Rubiales’ resignation and called for a “profound and immediate” restructuring at the federation. Notably, after years of non-stop clashes with LaLiga under Rubiales’ leadership, the committee asked for “a new era where dialogue and reconciliation with all of football’s institutions is the route to follow.”
In temporary charge is Pedro Rocha, 69, an RFEF vice-president since 2018 and head of the football federation for the region of Extremadura. Rocha is closely associated with Rubiales, frequently referred to as his “right-hand man” — if the mood is one of change, he is unlikely to be a long-term candidate. The next presidential elections are due in 2024 — they coincide with Olympic years — and the RFEF will be run on an interim basis until then. — Kirkland