After Spain won the Women’s World Cup, Luis Rubiales resigned as president of the Spanish Football Federation after days of intense pressure and a scandal over kissing a female player on the lips.
Three weeks ago, the 46-year-old, who faces criminal charges in Spain, defiantly rejected calls to step down, insisting the player had consented to the kiss. The scandal marred celebrations for Spain’s first World Cup victory and highlighted gender inequality in Spain and the world’s most popular sport.
Rubiales told Piers Morgan in an interview aired on Sunday night that he was resigning because “I can’t continue my job.” He said he made the decision after discussing it with family and friends.
After the finals in Australia on August 20, Rubiales held Jennifer Hermoso’s head in his hands and kissed her on the lips as she and the other players received medals for winning the title. He said the player had agreed, but Hermoso rejected his explanation, calling it “absolutely wrong” and saying no such conversation had taken place.
Minutes after the incident, Spain’s top scorer told other players on Instagram Live in the dressing room that she “didn’t like it”. She later disputed Rubiales’ account and said she was the victim of “impulsive sexism.” The country’s football president was also seen grabbing his crotch during the game as he celebrated a goal next to Spain’s Queen Letizia and one of her daughters.
Hermoso filed a criminal complaint against Rubiales in Madrid on September 6, and Spanish prosecutors charged him two days later.
The scandal has risen to the political stage as Spain struggles to form a government after July 23 elections. The current caretaker government – a coalition of socialists and far-left groups – has pledged to do its utmost to overthrow him. Spain’s top sports official, Victor Francos, called it a “Me Too” moment for football in the country.
Rubiales’ actions prove that “this country still has a lot of work to do in terms of gender equality and respect,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on August 22. “What we are seeing is unacceptable.”
On August 25, at a gathering of mostly male Spanish football officials, Rubiales stood up to the pressure, surprising friends and foes alike. He reiterated five times that he would not resign. Many members applauded, including women’s coach Jorge Vilda.
But his actions to undermine Hermoso triggered a wave of condemnation and turned public opinion against him. Global governing body FIFA suspended Rubiales for 90 days on August 26, and the entire women’s team refused to play for Spain again during his stay. He was replaced by a caretaker president.
A global movement emerged to support Hermoso and her teammates. Outrage on social media focused on the words “se acabo” – meaning “it’s all over” – referring both to Rubiales and to the wider issue of sexual harassment of women. Hundreds of people marched in central Madrid on Monday night, chanting “This is not a peck, this is aggression.”
Rubiales became increasingly isolated. Wilda and his counterparts in the men’s team subsequently condemned the behavior. In contrast to the cheers, after he was suspended by FIFA, the president of the regional football association called for his resignation, calling Rubiales’ behavior “unacceptable”.
Spain has strict legislation on sexual consent, outlined in a controversial law called “Only Yes Means Yes”, and the legal repercussions are likely to be here to stay. Prosecutors last week laid sexual assault and coercion charges against football director Luis Rubiales for giving player Jennifer Hermoso a kiss while celebrating Australia’s Women’s World Cup victory in Australia last month.
—With assistance from Max Zimmerman