Anger in Spain after soccer chief kisses a player at Women's World Cup ceremony
Updated August 23, 2023 at 1:39 PM ET
Spain just won its first ever Women's World Cup, and celebrated with a huge party in Madrid on Monday. But the joy of its victory has been tempered by what happened during the medal ceremony: the head of the Royal Spanish Football Federation planting a kiss on the lips of one of Spain's players.
Now, federation President Luis Rubiales is being roundly criticized, including by Spain's acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.
"It was an unacceptable gesture and Mr. Rubiales' apologies are not enough; they are not even suitable. Therefore, he must continue taking steps to clarify what we saw," Sánchez said in a press conference on Tuesday, as reported by Spanish newspaper El País.
"We continue to ask for the resignation of the man who has harassed and assaulted a woman. His excuses are useless," said the government's acting Second Vice President Yolanda Díaz, according to the newspaper. "This person must resign."
The furor follows a moment seen live around the world. During the tournament's medal ceremony on Sunday in Sydney, the Spanish squad received their medals and proceeded through a receiving line that included Rubiales. As he greeted star forward Jennifer Hermoso, Rubiales hugged Hermoso tightly, then pulled her head toward his face and kissed her firmly on the lips. During the procession, Rubiales kissed several other players on the cheek and embraced them tightly, lifting them off the ground as he hugged them.
In a livestream of the team celebrating in their locker room after the game, Hermoso says: "I didn't like it." As she is apparently shown a video or photo of the kiss, she says, "What do I do? Look at me, look at me."
Rubiales was also in the locker room, where he announced to the team that they will all be going to Ibiza and then said: "There we will celebrate the wedding of Jenni and Rubiales." Video later showed Rubiales making a crotch-grabbing gesture in the stands after the win, a few feet away from the queen of Spain.
On Monday, the federation released a video of Rubiales offering a supposed apology for his actions, which he describes as "very spontaneous" and "a moment of maximum effusiveness without any bad intention."
"I have to apologize, there is no other option, right?" Rubiales says in the video. "And, furthermore, learn from this and understand that when you are president of an institution as important as the federation, you have to be more careful, especially in ceremonies."
Rubiales had previously called those criticizing him "idiots."
Spanish news site Relevo reports that Rubiales had tried to convince Hermoso to appear with him in an apology video, but she refused to do so.
In a statement sent by the federation to Spanish news agency EFE, Hermoso played down Rubiales' kiss.
"It was a mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous prompted by the huge joy of winning a World Cup," her statement said, according to Reuters. "The 'presi' and I have a great relationship, his behavior with all of us has always been 10 (out of 10) and this was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude."
But Relevo reports that Hermoso did not actually write or say that statement.
Spain's minister for culture and sport, Miquel Iceta, rebuked Rubiales on Monday.
"It seems unacceptable to me," Iceta told broadcaster RNE, as ESPN reported. "We're in a moment of equality, of rights and respect for women. We all have to be particularly careful in our attitudes and our actions. I think it's unacceptable to kiss a player on the lips to congratulate her."
The prime minister's public criticism of Rubiales followed a reception in which the footballers were congratulated.
"The players have done everything to win. But there have been some behaviors, such as those of Mr. Rubiales, which show that in our country there is still a long way to go in terms of equality and respect, and in the equalization of rights between women and men," Sánchez said.
Sánchez said it was not up to him whether Rubiales keeps his job since the Spanish soccer federation is not controlled by the government, The Associated Press reports, but the leader noted that Rubiales "has yet to be clear and compelling in his apologies."
A spokesperson for Spain's People's Party called Rubiales' attitude "embarrassing" and said "all institutional managers have a duty to be exemplary."
A complaint has been filed with the National Sports Council against Rubiales by Miguel Galán, who leads a national facility that trains soccer coaches, The Guardian reports. The complaint reportedly calls for disciplinary procedures against Rubiales and calls the kiss a "sexist, intolerable act in sport," arguing it violates a Spanish law barring sexism in sports.
Spain's road to the World Cup had already been marred by players' complaints against their working conditions and their coach, Jorge Vilda. Fifteen of the regular players on the national team refused to play under Vilda; three eventually returned to the team and were part of its victory.
U.S. star Megan Rapinoe, who has been outspoken on working conditions and pay in women's soccer, said Rubiales' actions made her "think about how much we are required to endure."
"Think how much that Spanish team had to shoulder: Some of the players who stood up way back last year still aren't on the team. Maybe that was something that galvanized them, but you shouldn't have to have that," she told The Atlantic.
The image of Rubiales grabbing his crotch "signals such a deep level of misogyny and sexism in that federation," Rapinoe said. "What kind of upside-down world are we in? On the biggest stage, where you should be celebrating, Jenni has to be physically assaulted by this guy."
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