Spain's women's soccer team has not only garnered international attention this week for winning the World Cup but has now become the center of controversy after a player accused a high-level official of planting an unwanted kiss on her. The situation has sparked a nasty back-and-forth between the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and players and staff who have fought back against the organization's treatment of the player involved.
The Initial Incident
On Sunday, August 20, Spain took home the Women's World Cup trophy in a 1-0 win over England. During a ceremony following the match, the players lined up as they prepared to receive their medals. RFEF President Luis Rubiales was shown on camera embracing midfielder Jennifer Hermoso, 33, before placing both hands on her head and kissing her on the mouth.
After footage of the kiss sparked outrage online, Hermoso was attributed in a statement saying that “it was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the immense joy that winning a World Cup gives.” Though in an Instagram Live of the players celebrating, Hermoso said she “didn't like” the kiss and was unsure how to react.
Rubiales initially called the kiss “a mistake” and said he regretted the incident, but later claimed that the kiss was consensual.
Hermoso said in a statement posted on social media on Friday that after giving herself time and “delving a little deeper” into her “initial feelings” on the matter, she said no person should ever be a “victim of these types of non-consensual behaviors.” Hermoso also said that she was pressured by the RFEF to “justify” Rubiales' actions, calling it a “manipulative, hostile, and controlling culture.”
“I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part,” she continued. “Simply put, I was not respected.”
The RFEF Calls Hermoso a “Liar”
The Spanish federation has vehemently supported Rubiales and went so far as to release a since-deleted statement calling Hermoso a liar and disparaging her claims. The organization said it had supposed evidence of Hermoso lying and said it would take “legal actions against all those people who are falsifying reality and committing very serious crimes.”
While the federation has since taken that statement down, it has continued to stand by Rubiales.
Players Say They Won't Play Until Rubiales Resigns
After calls for Rubiales to resign, the RFEF president made a speech saying he would not be stepping down. He also doubled down on the kiss being consensual, adding that it was “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric.”
Immediately following his speech, all 23 players of Spain's World Cup champion team and more than 50 other players signed an open letter condemning the federation's actions and Rubiales' denial. In the letter, they all vowed not to play for Spain until Rubiales resigned or was removed from his position.
Additionally, 11 RFEF staffers including assistant coaches Montserrat Tomé Vázquez, Eugenio Gonzalo, and Javier Lerga also resigned from their positions and wrote in a separate letter their disappointment in the federation's treatment of Hermoso. The staffers also claimed that several women members of the RFEF were forced to stand in the front row during Rubiales' speech to make it appear that they supported the president.
Spain's head coach Jorge Vilda did not resign, but has called Rubiales actions “unacceptable and does not reflect at all the principles and values that I defend in my life.”
FIFA Suspends Rubiales
On Saturday, August 26, FIFA announced that they made the decision to provisionally suspend Rubiales from all soccer-related activities for 90 days. FIFA also barred both Rubiales and the RFEF from contacting Hermoso and those close to her during the time of suspension.
The organization also stated that it opened disciplinary proceedings on Thursday against Rubiales. RFEF said that Pedro Rocha Junco will fill in as interim president in the meantime.
Support for Hermoso Pours In
In the days following Rubiales' behavior and the RFEF's aggressive attack on Hermoso, several players, coaches, and Spanish officials have offered their support to the women's team. Spain's men's national team head coach Luis de la Fuente released a statement on Saturday condemning Rubiales' behavior, calling it “not appropriate for someone who was representing the entirety of Spanish football.”
“Finally, I state my disappointment because the events we are experiencing cloud the image of Spanish football, at home and abroad,” De la Fuente continued.
Players from the Spanish men's club Sevilla wore t-shirts ahead of their game on Saturday that read “Se acabó,” which translates to, “It's Over.” The phrase is in reference to Spanish women's soccer player Alexia Putellas's tweet supporting her teammate Hermoso.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called Rubiales' actions “unacceptable” and said his initial apology “wasn't sufficient.”
“It shows that in our country there's a long way to go in terms of equality and respect between men and women,” the prime minister continued.
Spain's Secretary of State for Sports and head of the country's Higher Council for Sports, Víctor Francos, said “We are ready for this to be the #MeToo of Spanish football, and for this to be a change.”
Other players, including U.S. women's player Alex Morgan, showed her support of Hermoso and wrote in a statement on social media, “Winning a World Cup should be one of the best moments in these players’ lives but instead it’s overshadowed by assault, misogyny, and failures by the Spanish federation.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue