Spanish Soccer Chief Refuses to Resign Over World Cup Kiss

Spanish Soccer Chief Refuses to Resign Over World Cup Kiss

The head of the Spanish soccer federation, under fire after he grabbed and kissed a member of the winning team fully on the lips at a Women’s World Cup medals ceremony last weekend in Australia, insisted on Friday that he would not step aside, saying he was the victim of “social assassination.”

News reports had said that the federation chief, Luis Rubiales, would hand in his notice as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation at noon local time after five years at the helm, but he instead took a defiant stand.

“I will not resign,” he said several times, adding that “I will fight this to the end” and accusing his critics of “false feminism.”

The victory was a reminder that despite the Spanish team’s steep trajectory into the highest echelons of women’s soccer — the team did not qualify for a Women’s World Cup until 2015 — the program has been dogged by sexism and other scandals.

Most recently, several prominent players revolted against the coach, Jorge Vilda, and the federation led by Mr. Rubiales, complaining of mistreatment and refusing to play for the national team.

Players on the women’s national team have also said that they have been disrespected by top male soccer executives, saying that the men’s team was given superior equipment and treatment.

The complaints have persisted for decades. Before the Spanish team’s ascent, the women’s national team was led for 27 years by Ignacio Quereda, who called some players “chavalitas,” or immature girls, before finally being dismissed when the players protested.

After the World Cup final in Sydney on Sunday, Mr. Rubiales was captured on video kissing Jennifer Hermoso, a Spanish forward who is believed to have supported the rebellion, and in a post-match video, she was seen apparently making her distaste of the kissing incident known, saying, “Hey, but I didn’t like that!”

Mr. Rubiales, who had offered a tepid apology on Monday as the outrage began to grow, offered a drastically different account on Friday. Ms. Hermoso, he said, lifted him off his feet and “moved me close to her body.”

Ms. Hermoso did not respond immediately to the remarks from Mr. Rubiales. Iker Casillas, a retired goalkeeper who played for the men’s national team, said in a post on social media immediately after Mr. Rubiales spoke that his comments “make you cringe.”

It was, Mr. Rubiales said, a “free, mutual and consensual kiss,” and he added that he would take Yolanda Diaz, the second deputy prime minister, and other prominent Spanish politicians to court after they called for his resignation for what they called “harassment.” Ms. Diaz responded that “Mr. Rubiales still doesn’t know what he’s done.”

Initially, as video footage of the encounter spread on social media and many Spaniards reacted with disgust, accusing him of perpetuating a long legacy of sexism in the sport, Mr. Rubiales tried various approaches to defuse the controversy.

His first response, before leaving Australia, was to remain adamant that he had done nothing wrong. He said of his critics, “We shouldn’t pay attention to idiots and stupid people.”

This only fueled further condemnation of his behavior in Spain, with the minister of culture and sport demanding an explanation from him and pointing out that it was unacceptable to congratulate soccer players by kissing them on the lips.

Other prominent politicians demanded Mr. Rubiales’s resignation, with the minister of equality accusing him of sexual violence.

By the time Mr. Rubiales had returned to Spain, it appeared clear that he was in trouble.

Mr. Rubiales then said in a video broadcast by the federation on Monday afternoon: “I have to apologize. Probably I made a mistake.”

But Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said that Mr. Rubiales’s behavior was “unacceptable” and that his apology was “not enough.” Speculation continued to grow that the soccer chief was on thin ice.

The government is limited in its ability to punish members of the soccer federation, but on Friday, after Mr. Rubiales made his remarks, the government said it was taking steps to have him suspended. Víctor Francos, president of the National Sports Council and secretary of state for sports, said on Cadena SER radio: “We’re going to act — we’ve activated all the mechanisms to take appropriate measures.”

A statement released by the soccer federation in Ms. Hermoso’s name has also come under scrutiny. She was quoted as saying of the soccer chief’s actions, “It was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the huge joy of winning a World Cup.”

But on Wednesday, Ms. Hermoso demanded through her union that “measures” be taken against Mr. Rubiales. And on Thursday, after receiving at least four complaints, the National Sports Council threatened to disqualify him from public office for violating the country’s sports law on sexual violence if the federation did not fire him first.

FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, also opened disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Rubiales.

Support from the presidents of Spain’s regional soccer federations, which had been waning, plummeted.

“It’s not the conduct of a president of a federation,” said the coach of Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti.

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