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Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales under heavy fire for inappropriate behavior

A sports disciplinary council will hear a complaint about obscene gestures and a non-consensual kiss by the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation during the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup

Rubiales
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain hosts Luis Rubiales and the women's national soccer team after their victory in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.INMA FLORES

Luis Rubiales is facing a critical moment in his presidency of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). His non-consensual kiss of Jennifer Hermoso and obscene gestures during the celebrations of Spain’s victory in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup are jeopardizing his leadership position. Spain’s Superior Sports Council (CSD) received a complaint about Rubiales’ behavior from Miguel Galán, president of the Cenafe coaching school. Cenfae’s legal department and government prosecutors are also weighing taking the case to Spain’s Administrative Court for Sports (TAD).

Since Jenni Hermoso has not pressed charges, a criminal prosecution of Rubiales has been ruled out, although he can be ousted from his position for his inappropriate behavior. Meanwhile, Rubiales will convene a special meeting this week to secure the support of RFEF power brokers. The RFEF stated that “the federation’s internal proceedings regarding integrity issues are open, as are all the applicable protocols” regarding the “events that occurred” in the World Cup final.

If the CSD hands the case over to the TAD and Rubiales is charged, CSD President Víctor Francos has the authority to convene the organization’s board of directors for a vote on suspending Rubiales while the TAD deliberates. If the TAD decides that Article 104 of Spain’s Sports Law has been violated, Rubiales can be banned from sports for two to 15 years. Article 104 pertains to “very serious public acts that violate dignity and decorum in sports, as well as abuses of authority.”

Luis Rubiales presidente de Real Federación Española de Fútbol
Luis Rubiales; August 22, 2023.Juan Carlos Hidalgo (EFE)

The CSD did not remit to the TAD a previous complaint about Rubiales related to the “Supercopa” conflict-of-interest case reported by El Confidencial, involving retired soccer star Gerard Piqué. However, Rubiales’ non-consensual kiss of Hermoso is viewed as a sexual harassment and gender equality issue, a key priority for acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. CSD sources have expressed express their concern about the negative impact on the international reputation of Spanish sports, especially after achieving such a significant milestone.

Sánchez has publicly urged Rubiales to resign, but the RFEF president is resisting, arguing that his breach of protocol does not justify resignation. In an apparent contradiction of the public authority granted to Spanish sports federations, Rubiales said the RFEF is a private organization and not obligated to comply with resignation requests from external entities. According to RFEF sources, Rubiales intends to hold onto his position despite mounting government pressure. Yolanda Díaz, Spain’s Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor and Social Economy, called for the application of the Sports Law and federal protocols regarding sexist acts. Sánchez also described Rubiales’ behavior as “unacceptable” and his apologies as “insufficient.”

A cold shoulder from Sánchez

Sánchez has been highly critical of Rubiales and during his reception for the world champions, the RFEF chief was shunted to the background along with the team’s equipment managers. Sánchez praised the team and later joined the growing criticism of Rubiales. “What we saw is unacceptable,” Sánchez said, “and the apologies offered by Mr. Rubiales are not sufficient. I would call them inappropriate, so he must continue taking further steps to clarify what we all saw... The players made a great effort to secure victory. However, certain behaviors, like those of Rubiales, highlight that our country still has progress to make in terms of equality, respect and gender rights.” Yolanda Díaz went on the attack again when online sports outlet Relevo reported that Rubiales begged Hermoso to appear with him in his apology video. “This is a case of a boss pressuring a worker to conceal the abuse she has endured. It is a grave matter that tarnishes the reputation of Spanish sports. Rubiales should step down immediately,” she posted on X (formerly Twitter).

This is undoubtedly the biggest threat to Rubiales’ leadership of the RFEF. He has shrugged off the outrage over moving Spain’s Supercopa tournament to Saudi Arabia (which paid a juicy commission to Gerard Piqué's sports event management company), unethical recordings of government ministers, and alleged spying on David Aganzo, president of the Spanish soccer players’ union (AFE). The AFE, which Rubiales chaired for seven years, issued a statement demanding that the CSD apply the Sports Law and its own protocol regarding sexual violence, which includes forced kissing. Rubiales now finds himself in a highly vulnerable position as he awaits a government decision on his behavior. FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), where Rubiales serves as vice president, also have the authority to take legal action against him.

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