Soccer-Spanish federation chief refuses to resign over kiss scandal

By Fernando Kallas

MADRID (Reuters) -Spanish soccer boss Luis Rubiales refused to quit on Friday for kissing World Cup star Jenni Hermoso on the lips after Spain’s World Cup victory, fuelling anger among players and government ministers who decried his actions as unacceptable macho behaviour.

Speaking at an emergency meeting of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Rubiales complained that “false feminists” were “trying to kill me”.

He described the kiss as 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,” Rubiales said, drawing applause from the predominantly male audience.

Criticism of Rubiales’s behaviour 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.

The government confirmed on Friday it will take the incident before a sport tribunal where, if it can be proven the kiss was non-consensual, he could be tried under a sexual violence law introduced by the ruling Socialists last year.

Rubiales’ speech at the RFEF assembly drew immediate condemnation from acting Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz, who described it as “unacceptable”.

“The government must act and take urgent measures: impunity for macho actions is over. Rubiales cannot continue in office,” Diaz wrote on social media.

Acting Equality Minister Irene Montero said the state prosecutor and the state-run sport council (CSD) should act to protect Hermoso.

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, 46, 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 X.

Some male players also protested. Borja Iglesias of Real Betis, who last played for Spain in 2022, said on X he would not put himself forward for selection for the national team “until things change and these kinds of acts don’t remain unpunished”.

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.

FIFA opened disciplinary procedures against him on Thursday after Hermoso said in a statement her union was working to defend her interests and that such acts should “never go unpunished”.

The football players union FIFPro said in a statement it had written to UEFA, where Rubiales is vice president, requesting that it also start disciplinary proceedings.

“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 assembly interviewed by Reuters as they left Friday’s meeting said they were caught by surprise as they had expected Rubiales to resign.

The members from Galicia and Andalusia, 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 Pavicic; writing by Charlie Devereux; editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)