Spain’s Olympics boss condemns Rubiales kiss, women’s league players announce strike

By Fernando Kallas and Emma Pinedo

LAS ROZAS, Spain (Reuters) -Spain’s Olympic chief said on Friday the actions of football federation boss Luis Rubiales, who has unleashed a furore by kissing a women’s World Cup winning player, were “inappropriate, unacceptable” but did not represent Spanish sport as a whole.

Men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente meanwhile apologised for clapping Rubiales as he refused to quit last week, and players’ unions announced a two-match strike in the women’s domestic league in protest over their conditions and pay.

Prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into a possible sexual assault after Rubiales grabbed player Jenni Hermoso’s head and kissed her on the mouth following Spain’s victory in Sydney on Aug. 20.

Spanish Olympic Committee President Alejandro Blanco said the gestures by Rubiales – whom he described as a personal friend – could not be tolerated. It was “unacceptable that an isolated incident should take the limelight away from our sportsmen and women”, Blanco told a news conference.

The fallout from the kiss has become a “Me Too” moment in Spain, unleashing anger that had been building for years, and triggering a torrent of allegations from other women in football of predatory behaviour by men.

Aside from the kiss, Rubiales also drew criticism for grabbing his genitals while celebrating the team’s win from the VIP box next to Spain’s Queen Letizia and her 16-year-old daughter.

Rubiales, who has called the kiss consensual, has refused to resign as head of the federation. He has been suspended for three months by FIFA pending a disciplinary probe by soccer’s world governing body.

Hermoso has said she did not consent to the kiss and felt “vulnerable and the victim of an aggression”.

Blanco said he had advised Rubiales in a phone call after the World Cup final to apologise, highlight the success for Spanish women’s football and offer his resignation.

“I believe that (resigning) would have been a coherent gesture, one that the whole of society would understand and the best gesture that could be made to show repentance,” he said.

A week ago, dozens of Spain’s top women players said they would not return to play for the national team under the existing leadership.

In a sign of growing pressure for equal rights, the Spanish Footballers’ Association union said the planned strike in the women’s domestic league resulted from an impasse in negotiations with the league to “achieve fair and dignified treatment for female soccer players and address and reduce the existing wage gap”.

The strike is planned for the first two fixtures of the season, on Sept. 8 and 15.

Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz welcomed their action. “You are setting the standard in the defence of decent work and real equality,” she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.


Separately, men’s national team coach De la Fuente addressed the widespread criticism of his applause for Rubiales at emergency assembly of the federation a week ago, when Rubiales said he would not resign and blamed “false feminism” for the furore.

De la Fuente apologised for his “inexcusable” behaviour, telling reporters on Friday that he felt overwhelmed when Rubiales, who had been widely expected to step down during the event, did not quit after all.

“I don’t recognise myself when I see the images of the ceremony… I went blank, I was overwhelmed by the situation,” he said, adding that he would stay on as coach as he had the backing of the federation’s officials.

Many have called on De la Fuente and the women’s team coach, Jorge Vilda, to step down or be fired after both gave Rubiales a standing ovation during the assembly.

A federation source told Reuters on Thursday that Vilda, who had survived a player mutiny to steer the team to last month’s World Cup glory, will be fired, pending severance negotiations.

The federation confirmed De la Fuente as coach.

“I don’t think I have to resign; I have to apologise. I made a human mistake. If I could go back right now I wouldn’t do it again,” De la Fuente said.

(Reporting by Fernado Kallas and Emma PinedoWriting by David LatonaEditing by Andrei Khalip and Frances Kerry)