MADRID — Spanish soccer boss Luis Rubiales refused to quit on Friday for kissing star player Jenni Hermoso on the lips after Spain's Women's World Cup victory, fuelling anger among players and government ministers who decried his actions as unacceptable macho behavior.
The government cannot sack Rubiales, who is head of the independent Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). But it will seek to suspend him using a legal procedure before a sports tribunal, the head of the state-run sports council, Victor Francos, told reporters.
"We want all this to be a 'Me Too' of Spanish soccer," Francos said.
Rubiales had been widely expected to stand down at an emergency meeting of the federation on Friday, but instead he said he refused to be forced out and complained that "false feminists" were "trying to kill me".
He called the kiss a "little peck" that was "spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual".
"Is a consensual peck going to take me out of here? I won't resign. I will fight until the end," said Rubiales, 46, drawing applause from the predominantly male audience.
Front row and in the centre, two women are NOT clapping. A few on the side obliged to follow the room.If this difference in reaction between folks in the front row DOES NOT tell you a reaction, I don’t know what does.
— SHE scores bangers (@SHEscoresbanger) August 25, 2023
Criticism of Rubiales' behavior has built throughout the week. The incident occurred while the players were being handed their medals after they beat England 1-0 in the World Cup final in Sydney, Australia, on Sunday.
As players filed past, Rubiales grabbed Hermoso by the head and planted a kiss on her mouth.
J'espère que c'est sa meuf sinon c'est une dinguerie ça. pic.twitter.com/SlZxe8K8gK— Messiah Yaniss (@Zemal_GOAT16) August 20, 2023
Acting Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz called his speech on Friday "unacceptable", writing on social media: "The government must act and take urgent measures: impunity for macho actions is over. Rubiales cannot continue in office."
Acting Equality Minister Irene Montero said the state prosecutor and the sports council CSD should act to protect Hermoso.
FIFA opened disciplinary procedures against Rubiales on Thursday after Hermoso said in a statement her union was working to defend her interests and that such acts should "never go unpunished".
Rubiales' comments on Friday and the applause he received at the event were widely scorned on social media.
In a post on Twitter that generated thousands of likes, journalist Javier Gallego Crudo described the meeting as "an assembly where a man, cornered by his own misogynist actions, ends up attacking feminism... blames the woman and is applauded by other men. No better illustration of patriarchy".
The government said it had started a proceeding to take Sunday's incident before a sports tribunal. If it can be proven that the kiss was non-consensual, Rubiales could be tried under a sexual violence law introduced by the ruling Socialists last year.
The court has seven members, appointed by the state-run CSD, three of them women. The CSD can suspend Rubiales during the investigation if the court agrees, Francos said.
Gender issues have become a prominent topic in Spain in recent years. Tens of thousands of women have taken part in street marches protesting sexual abuse and violence.
The Socialist-led coalition government has presided over a raft of legal reforms, including around equal pay, abortion, sex work and transgender rights.
Rubiales said in his speech that it was Hermoso who initiated physical contact by lifting him off the ground by his hips. He said he asked Hermoso if he could give her "a little peck" and she said "OK".
Full footage of the medal awards ceremony was not broadcast on Spanish television.
"This is unacceptable. It´s over. We're with you, teammate Jenni Hermoso," her teammate Alexia Putellas said on Twitter after Friday's federation meeting.
Women's Soccer world response to Rubiales
Esto es inaceptable. Se acabó. Contigo compañera @Jennihermoso— Alexia Putellas (@alexiaputellas) August 25, 2023
“There are limits that cannot be crossed and we cannot tolerate this. We are with you mate” https://t.co/zt45Wngj4w— SHE scores bangers (@SHEscoresbanger) August 25, 2023
I'm disgusted by the public actions of Luis Rubiales. I stand by @Jennihermoso and the Spanish players. 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.— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) August 25, 2023
The game, the Spanish players deserve more, no players should have to endure this. It’s unacceptable, and also laughable that these men still are allowed so much power. @Jennihermoso we are all with you ❤️— Beth Mead MBE (@bmeado9) August 25, 2023
No-one should ever have to fight in their place of work for respect, to feel safe or for their basic human rights.Things have to change.
I stand with @Jennihermoso and the Spanish team ✊
— Fridolina Rolfö (@FridolinaRolfo) August 25, 2023
— Olga Carmona (@7olgacarmona) August 25, 2023
So does he actually think he is the victim? The whole world has seen what happened. Makes me feel sick!With you @Jennihermoso & with the rest of the team who deserves so much better than that! ❤️
— Lia Wälti (@liawaelti) August 25, 2023
— Salma (@SalmaParalluelo) August 25, 2023
The global stage yet again exposing global issues. These players and this team have repeatedly spoken up for years! Where are the changes? Toxicity is at the core of @SEFutbol. A federation that proudly displays patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny.— Tobin Heath (@TobinHeath) August 25, 2023
Some male players also protested.
Borja Iglesias of Real Betis, who last played for Spain in 2022, said on Twitter he would not put himself forward for selection for the national team "until things change and these kinds of acts don't remain unpunished."
Spanish striker Borja Iglesias announces he will not play for the Spanish national team in support of the women's national team after Luis Rubiales refused to resign as RFEF president.“As a footballer and as a person, I do not feel represented by what happened today… I have… pic.twitter.com/3FWr55hjtp
— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) August 25, 2023
Me sangran los oídos— David de Gea (@D_DeGea) August 25, 2023
"My ears are bleeding." -David de Gea
Estem amb vosaltres!¡Estamos con vosotras! https://t.co/qS42MptRAg
— Sergi Roberto (@SergiRoberto10) August 25, 2023
"We are with you!" -Sergi Roberto
Vergüenza ajena. ♂️— Iker Casillas (@IkerCasillas) August 25, 2023
"Embarrassment." -Iker Casillas
“The narcissist never believes they have made a mistake, they are able to lie, manipulate the truth and make the victim guilty in order to retain their power over others.” -Hector Bellerin via his Instagram story.
At the event on Sunday, Rubiales was also seen grabbing his crotch in celebration while standing next to Queen Letizia in a box at the stadium, for which he apologized on Friday.
The football players union FIFPro said in a statement it had written to UEFA, where Rubiales is vice president, requesting that it start disciplinary proceedings. UEFA declined to comment.
"I am embarrassed by the shame that it continues to be for Spanish football to have a president of the (RFEF) who continues to cling to office," FIFPro President David Aganzo said.
Three members of the RFEF interviewed by Reuters as they left Friday's meeting, who declined to give their names, said they felt the issue was overblown, a sentiment they said was shared by most of the members present. Only about half of the membership was present.
Rubiales met with key federation members shortly before the assembly and told them about his plans not to resign, according to a federation source.
The only person who objected was Rafael del Amo, president of the national committee for women's football, who said he would step down from his roles, which also included the vice presidency of the federation.
(Reporting by Fernando Kallas, Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo; additional reporting by Rohith Nair and Milan PavicicWriting by Charlie DevereuxEditing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)