By Joseph Wilson
The president of the Spanish soccer federation refused to resign Friday despite an uproar for kissing a player on the lips without her consent after the Women’s World Cup final.
Luis Rubiales defiantly told an emergency general assembly of the federation “I won’t resign” four times in quick succession and claimed he was a victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists.”
Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the award ceremony after Spain beat England in the final in Sydney, Australia, marring the title celebrations in front of a global audience.
Several Spanish media outlets had reported on Thursday that Rubiales was planning to step down.
Instead, he said the kiss was “mutual and with the consent” of Hermoso and painted himself as a victim. He received various applause from the overwhelming male assembly.
Among those who applauded his decision to cling to power were women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente.
Hermoso had said in a video streamed on social media after the kiss last Sunday that “I didn’t like it, but what can I do.” Later, her players’ union issued a statement on her behalf saying that it would defend her interests and ensure that the act “does not go unpunished.”
The federation’s first attempt to respond to the scandal was a statement it released in the name of Hermoso in which she downplayed the incident. Later, a local media report by sports website Relevo.com said that the federation had coerced her into making the statement. The federation has denied this to The Associated Press.
In the version that Rubiales gave to the assembly, he said Hermoso had lifted him up in celebration 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.
He said that he would defend his honor in court against politicians, including two ministers, who called his kiss an act of sexual violence.
The 46-year-old Rubiales is under immense pressure to leave his post because of his conduct before and during the award ceremony following Spain’s 1-0 victory over England on Sunday.
Since Rubiales became a national embarrassment, criticism and calls for him to go have mounted day after day, with Spain’s acting prime minister, his government, players’ unions, and finally voices from inside men’s soccer saying he must go. The only relevant institution to remain silent has been European soccer body UEFA, for which Rubiales is a vice president. Until Friday's assembly, he had received no public support in Spain.
FIFA, the governing body of soccer, opened a disciplinary case against Rubiales on Thursday. The FIFA disciplinary committee was tasked with weighing whether Rubiales violated its code relating to “the basic rules of decent conduct” and “behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”
That move by FIFA came after Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said Rubiales’ attempt to apologize, which came after he initially insulted his critics, was unconvincing and that “he must continue taking further steps” to be held accountable.
Spain’s Higher Council of Sports, the nation’s governing sports body, pledged it would act quickly to consider various formal complaints filed against Rubiales to see if he had broken Spain’s sports law or the federation’s own code of conduct that sanction sexist acts. If so, Rubiales would face being declared unfit to hold his office by Spain’s Administrative Court for Sports.
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.
Rubiales only offered an apology for the crotch grab, saying it was in a moment of “euphoria” and directed toward Vilda on the field.
Updated August 25, 2023 at 7:30 a.m. ET with latest details.