FIFA provisionally suspended Luis Rubiales, the head of Spain’s football association, following a week of controversy over his behavior at the Women’s World Cup final, including kissing one of the team’s star players on the lips.
(Bloomberg) — FIFA provisionally suspended Luis Rubiales, the head of Spain’s football association, following a week of controversy over his behavior at the Women’s World Cup final, including kissing one of the team’s star players on the lips.
The suspension from all football-related activities is effective immediately and will initially last for 90 days while the disciplinary committee of football’s governing body conducts an investigation of Rubiales, according to a FIFA statement Saturday. FIFA announced the review Thursday amid outrage sparked by Rubiales celebrating Spain’s victory by kissing Jennifer Hermoso on the lips and making an obscene gesture of grabbing his crotch after a Spanish goal.
The decision comes a day after Spain’s champion women’s team said it would refuse to play another game while Rubiales remained in the post. That threat came after Rubiales made a dramatic appearance Friday, saying five times that he wouldn’t resign. The Spanish football association backed him and in a statement Friday threatened legal action to defend Rubiales’s honor, implying that Hermoso had lied about what happened.
Spain’s football association acknowledged the FIFA suspension on Saturday, and said in a statement that it welcomed the opportunity for its chief to “demonstrate his complete innocence.”
The controversy risks tearing apart the team. On Saturday 11 members of the coaching staff resigned in support of Hermoso and in protest over being forced to attend Rubiales’s Friday appearance before the football association where some were seated in the front row to indicate apparent support for Rubiales, they said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Rubiales argued Friday that he’s the victim of a public lynching and had done nothing wrong because the kiss was consensual. Hermoso responded with her own statement disputing the claims and said she was a victim of “an impulse-driven sexist.”
Rubiales has sought to tap into Spain’s culture wars to build his defense, blaming “fake feminism” for the uproar since the Aug. 20 incidents, which were broadcast live around the world. He said he would take Equality Minister Irene Montero and Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz to court for their criticism of him. All of the country’s largest political parties have so far shunned Rubiales and demanded he leave.
The controversy comes during a period of political deadlock in Spain following an inconclusive national election on July 28. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has retained the job in a caretaker capacity as both he and conservative opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo seek ways to find enough support to win an investiture vote. Senior government ministers have publicly called for Rubiales to quit, but have little power to remove him.
Sanchez has repeatedly sought to portray his government as being on the side of women since he first came to power in 2018, but some of his gender and equality laws have been deeply divisive and opposition to them has been used as rallying calls by opposition parties. Most notable was a law known as the “only yes means yes” law that sought to create tighter sentences for sex crimes, but had the unintended consequence of leading to the release of criminals who had their sentences revised under the new definitions.
Rubiales has been at the center of controversy before. Last year, documents and leaked audio revealed details of conversations he had with Gerard Pique, then a player at FC Barcelona, discussing organizing a tournament called the Spanish Supercup in Saudi Arabia and setting it up so that that different parties — including Pique-owned Kosmos Holding — could pocket hefty profits.
Several of Spain’s largest professional clubs issued statements Friday criticizing Rubiales, including Real Madrid, Europe’s most successful team, which said it fully supports the government’s decision to seek his suspension. Club Atletico Osasuna called his behavior “coarse, rude and chauvinist” while Athletic Club de Bilbao announced that its chairman will step down from the board of the FA.
Although professional clubs only have a small representation within the FA, their stance carries weight. In Spain, like in other countries, the FA is the sport’s governing body, oversees the national team and works with regional federations, but the two top leagues are controlled by a separate, club-owned entity called La Liga.
In an interview with newspaper El Pais Saturday, Spanish Culture and Sports Minister Miquel Iceta said that as far as the government is concerned, this is the end for Rubiales.
“It can’t go on. It cannot be that after an unacceptable event there isn’t any sort of reaction from the president or the assembly of the football federation,” Iceta said in the interview, though he did add that the final decision to remove Rubiales depends on legal authorities and the government has limited space to act.
–With assistance from Irene García Pérez and Katharina Rosskopf.
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