Spain coach Jorge Vilda hit out at Luis Rubiales for his “improper behaviour” following his unsolicited kiss of forward Jenni Hermoso after members of his coaching staff stepped down from their roles.
Rubiales, the president of the Spanish football federation (RFEF), has been under pressure since the incident during the team’s celebration following their Women’s World Cup final victory over England on Aug. 20, but he refused to resign Friday, saying the kiss was “mutual and with consent.”
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Hermoso replied in a statement later in the day, disputing Rubiales’ version of events and saying she “felt vulnerable and the victim of aggression, an impulsive, sexist act which was out of place and with no consent on my behalf.”
FIFA, world football’s governing body, announced on Saturday that Rubiales would be provisionally suspended from all football-related activities for 90 days.
Following the announcement, federation vice president Rafael del Amo, who had been in charge of women’s football, resigned. Four assistant coaches for Spain’s senior team, two coaches of the women’s youth teams and five other staff members for the senior and youth women’s teams also resigned Saturday.
On Saturday evening, Vilda released a statement to the Spanish news agency EFE criticising Rubiales’ behaviour at the World Cup.
“The events that have taken place since Spain won the Women’s World Cup for the first time in its history and to this day have been a real nonsense and have generated an unprecedented situation, tarnishing a well-deserved victory for our players and our country,” he said.
“I regret deeply that the victory of Spanish women’s football has been harmed by the inappropriate behaviour that our until now top leader, Luis Rubiales, has carried out and that he himself has recognised.
“There is no doubt that it is unacceptable and does not reflect at all the principles and values that I defend in my life, in sport in general and in football in particular.
“I condemn without doubt any macho attitude, [which should be] far from an advanced and developed society. A clearly undesirable climate has been generated, far from what should have been a great celebration of Spanish sport and women’s sport.
“I reiterate my unwavering commitment to promoting a sport that is a model of equality and respect in our society.”
The coaching staff complained of “the discomfort” of having been required to attend the federation assembly on Friday and said “several female members of the technical staff were forced to sit in the front row … to create the impression that they shared the RFEF president’s line.”
The RFEF has called regional federations to an “extraordinary and urgent” meeting on Monday “to evaluate the situation in which the federation finds itself” following Rubiales’ suspension, a spokesperson said Sunday.
Spain’s government — via its Higher Council for Sports — filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that Rubiales violated the country’s sports laws on two counts: for an alleged abuse of power and for allegedly committing acts that tarnished the dignity and decorum of a sporting event. If found guilty, Rubiales could be ruled unfit to hold office.
Spain’s Secretary of State for Sports Víctor Francos, who heads the sports council, said FIFA’s decision “reinforces and reaffirms that the path that the government of Spain announced yesterday was correct.”
Meanwhile, the honorary “Game for the Friends of Luis Rubiales” in which Rubiales was planning to play in southern Spain was canceled by local authorities over security concerns.
Cadiz and Sevilla became the first men’s teams to make public showings of support for Hermoso before playing games at their home stadiums.
Cadiz’s players held up a banner saying, “We Are All With Jenni.”
“The club did what it was supposed to do, which was to send a message of unity for men’s and women’s soccer,” Cadiz player Luis Hernández said.
Sevilla’s players wore T-shirts with the message: “This is over,” echoing words Hermoso’s teammate and two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas posted on social media Friday. The crowd also chanted: “This is over!”
Also, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández condemned Rubiales’ behavior, calling it “totally unacceptable.”
Luis de La Fuente, the men’s national team manager who could be seen applauding Rubiales on Friday, issued a statement on Saturday condemning “the actions of Luis Rubiales that did not respect the minimum protocol for such [World Cup] celebrations and are not constructive nor appropriate for someone representing all of Spanish football.”
UEFA, which oversees football in Europe, has yet to respond to ESPN’s requests for a comment on the situation. Rubiales sits on UEFA’s executive committee and is one of the body’s vice presidents.
Rubiales has been a controversial figure throughout his tenure as head of Spanish football’s governing body.
The RFEF also faced criticism over its handling of the complaints of 15 Spain women’s national team players over Vilda and the federation’s support for the team.
Rubiales’ response was to back Vilda. Three of the 15 players participated in the World Cup, while seven refused to play and five were not selected to the team.
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was included in this report.