Spanish women’s soccer team says they won’t play until chief is ousted

Updated Aug 25, 2023, 4:19pm EDT
Luis Rubiales with Esther Gonzalez and Rocio Galvez
REUTERS/Juan Medina
Diego Mendoza/

Players for the Spanish women’s soccer team said they will no longer play in matches until the federation’s chief, Luis Rubiales, resigns after he was widely criticized for kissing one of the players following their World Cup win.

In a statement, more than 80 players affirmed that teammate Jenni Hermoso did not consent to Rubiales kissing her on the lips, and that they collectively “want to express their firm and resounding condemnation of behaviors that have violated the dignity of women.”

The kiss created a public relations disaster for the Royal Spanish Football Federation, prompting an emergency meeting to be held on Friday. At the meeting, Rubiales vehemently refused to resign and was applauded by attendees.

"Rubiales' unacceptable words and actions overshadow this historic moment for Spain,"1 Real Madrid soccer player Babett Peter posted on X. But she said the issue goes beyond Rubiales, writing that "we also have to talk about the people who applaud and support him."

The kiss and defense from Rubiales symbolize "the codes of machismo,"2 writes El País journalist Isabel Valdés, by which Rubiales deflected blame by accusing Hermoso of being equally responsible for the incident and lied about getting her consent. Valdés says this is not much different than "revictimization" rhetoric echoed by Spain's far-right when discussing rape in politics, which she argues has only oppressed efforts to address violence against women in recent years.

The situation has outraged the Spanish government, and authorities are now working to intervene legally and oust Rubiales themselves.3 He has incited men to "defend the normal," Teresa Ribera, one of the country's deputy prime ministers, told El Mundo. "He lives on a planet that isn't Spain." Víctor Francos, president of Spain's sports authority governmental body, said he is ready for this moment "to be the #MeToo of Spanish football."

"Spain is at an inflection point on gender,"4 journalist Lisa Abend wrote for Time Magazine in February. Reforms strengthening LGBTQ and reproductive rights in recent years have legally positioned Spain as one of Europe's most feminist countries. But one of these reforms — a law that tightened punishment for sexual abuse, but had the unintended consequence of shortening the sentences for hundreds of convicted offenders — propelled feminist ideology as one of the most divisive issues between parties during this year's election, Abend says.