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Mutiny in Spain as Women’s World Cup winners refuse to play with Luis Rubiales in charge

The 23 squad members who were crowned world champions last week - Spain’s first ever major trophy, issued a joint statement through FutPro.

The 23 squad members who were crowned world champions last week - Spain’s first ever major trophy, issued a joint statement through FutPro.

What should have been a joyous week for Spanish football - days to enjoy and celebrate the women’s team’s success at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia have been sadly undermined by the bizarre, exaggerated behavior of the man who is in charge of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales - comportment that you would not expect from an individual in such a high-ranking position.

Rubiales’ behavior during the World Cup shocked Spain’s football community. A lot of the attention has been on the forced kiss with Jenni Hermoso, on the winners’ podium.

While Spanish people in general are very tactile, there are boundaries - kissing on both cheeks is acceptable between people who know each other well, but a kiss on the lips is not - and especially not in a work situation, between a boss and an employee. In every section of Spanish society, nobody would expect to be kissed in such a way, regardless of the circumstances, other than by a partner.

And just to make it even worse, Rubiales seemed completely oblivious that he and the Spanish squad were in the company of members of the royal family - Queen Letizia and Princess Sofía had flown out especially to support the team and were stood just a couple of feet away. He was stood right next to the Queen and Princess, wired and maniacally celebrating Olga Carmona’s winner by punching the air and grabbing his crotch - all caught on camera for the whole world to see.

Then there was the image of him with Athenea del Castillo slung over his shoulder like a butcher carrying a slab of meat. Every rule of etiquette broken in just a few hours by someone who should know better and who also earns an enormous salary - one that the majority of working Spaniards, including Jenni and her team mates, could never earn in several lifetimes.

Alcaraz and Gasol, humility and grace

It’s hard not to compare and contrast Rubiales’ deportment to that of those who were at the centre of Spain’s other great sporting successes this summer - Carlos Alcaraz’s exceptional victory at Wimbledon or Pau Gasol being enlisted into the NBA Hall of Fame, which he acknowledged with an immense, dignified acceptance speech full of humility, humor and class. Two worlds apart.

Women’s football at the RFEF

But it wasn’t just about the kiss - it was about abuse of power. It can be viewed as almost a latent form of bullying - and bullying, intimidation, mobbing, whatever you want to call it... has been an issue in the past at the RFEF with the women’s national team.

The Movistar+ documentary: Romper el silencio: la lucha de las futbolistas de la Selección (Breaking the Silence: the battle of Spain’s women’s team) which was broadcast in September last year, highlighted many of the problems the players endured under Vilda’s predecessor, Nacho Quereda. The complaints included a total lack of pre-match analysis (Vero Boquete: “In that era, it didn’t exist. We had no information about our rivals”), friendly matches that were either poorly planned or shunned completely, and “small details such as having a kit that was your size, that fit properly - a shirt with your name on the back, an improvement in diets, bonuses... better preparation in general”.

Then there were other, more serious allegations. Players complained of personal insults, being belittled, humiliated and shouted at in public, threats, put in their place...

While a lot has improved since Quereda stepped down in June 2015, many issues persist. Rubiales’ behavior over the past few days hasn’t exactly inspired confidence that the misogyny is no longer prevalent at the Fed. One Spanish columnist described the president’s speech as “like something you might expect to hear in a Spanish bar in the 1970s - but Spain no longer lives in the 1970s. We have moved on”.

Spain’s women footballers also believe that they and the nation as a whole has moved on, and that, among many other reasons, is why they’ve had enough.

Situation goes from bad to worse

Amid calls for his resignation, Rubiales defiantly stated that he would not be standing down in today’s general assembly, which several LaLiga club presidents boycotted. He even attempted to paint himself as a victim - who has been rounded on, who “they are trying to assassinate” in a witch-hunt.

For women’s football in Spain, it been a long, ongoing struggle and while the situation is today is a vast improvement on what it was a decade ago, it’s clear there are still issues with the Federation that need to be addressed.

This evening, Spain’s 23 World Cup winners issued a statement through the players’ union FutPro to denounce Rubiales’ conduct during the tournament, untruths spread by the Federation and to demand structural changes that “will help the national team to continue growing”. The statement added that Jenni Hermoso “categorically denies that Rubiales’ kiss was consensual”. The player said, “I would like to clarify that as can be seen in the images, at no point did I give my consent to be kissed in that manner and of course, in no moment did I try to lift the president up. I will not tolerate that my account of what happened has been put into doubt or that others have invented things that I did not say”.

All of the players who have put their name to FutPro’s statement - the 23 members of the World Cup squad plus an additional 58 players past and present plus coaching staff including Toña Is have stated that they will not be available for the next call-up for international duty “if the current management continues”.

Spain’s Women have two Nations League qualifiers scheduled for next month, against Sweden on 22 September and Switzerland four days later. As things stand, coach Jorge Vilda will not be able to form a team for those matches.