August 25, 2023 –Spain’s government has called for the controversy over the behaviour of the head of the football association to become football’s “Me Too moment”.
Luis Rubiales said he would not resign over kissing Spain striker Jenni Hermoso on the lips after their victory in the Women’s World Cup final.
He was also criticised for grabbing his crotch when celebrating the win, standing next to Spain’s Queen Letizia.
The row has stirred up long-standing tensions in Spain over women’s rights.
It is the latest lightning-rod incident in battles over significant social and political changes within the country, among them recent changes to the law to improve gender parity and more strictly define sexual consent.
Government ministers were among those to call for action to be taken against Mr Rubiales, who has been president of the federation since 2018.
“This should be the MeToo moment for Spanish football,” said Víctor Francos, Secretary of State for Sport.
On Thursday, football world governing body Fifa announced it was opening disciplinary proceedings against him, appearing to make his position untenable.
He was widely expected to resign on Friday. Instead, at an extraordinary meeting of the football association, Mr Rubiales claimed he was the victim of a witch-hunt and insisted he would not step down.
“I will not resign, I will not resign, I will not resign,” he told those present as he defended the controversial kiss.
“It was a spontaneous kiss, mutual and euphoric,” he said. “And, above all, consensual.”
Mr Rubiales went further, accusing his critics of using “false feminism” to persecute him and claimed he was the victim of “a social assassination”.
The government announced that it would take action to remove Mr Rubiales from office and would take him to a tribunal.
And in a statement released on Friday through a players’ union, Futpro, Ms Hermoso rejected Mr Rubiales’ account of events.
“At no time did I consent to the kiss,” the Spanish striker said. “I don’t tolerate my words being questioned.”
Dozens of members of the women’s national team said on Friday they would not play any matches for the country until Mr Rubiales has been removed from his job.
Several teammates expressed their support for Ms Hermoso, with two-time Ballon D’Or winner Alexia Putellas posting on social media network X: “This is unacceptable. It’s over. With you, friend.”
The Rubiales affair appears to feed into broader social changes in Spanish society over recent years, which have included legislation promoting sexual consent and gender parity.
“This is a critical moment in this country, people are moving towards more gender equality,” said Carolina García, a sports journalist at Telemadrid television network.
“The Spain of my grandfather was very different to now, but the important thing is that we keep moving forward. That’s what we need to achieve as a society.”
Feminism has frequently become a political battleground, pitting the left-wing coalition government of Pedro Sánchez against the opposition, particularly the far-right Vox.
Among the most vocal critics of Mr Rubiales has been Irene Montero, minister of equality and the most visible promoter of the government’s feminist agenda. She was also the driving force behind the “Only yes means yes” law, which sought to clamp down on non-consensual sexual relations.
That controversial legislation was driven in great part by the gang rape of a young woman in Pamplona during the San Fermines festival in 2016, in a case which became known as “The Wolfpack”. The five men responsible were only initially found guilty of sexual abuse, rather than rape (before their sentences were revised up).
The social backlash that followed the initial verdict not only contributed to a change in the law, but it also appeared to shift attitudes in Spain to consent in sexual relations.
Beyond the gender-related backlash against Mr Rubiales, there is also anger in Spain that this episode has threatened to overshadow the achievement of the Spanish women’s team in winning its first World Cup.
“We should have spent the last five days talking about our [women’s team]!” Iker Casillas, captain of the men’s team that won the 2010 World Cup, wrote on social network X.
“Of the happiness they gave us all!”