Amid street protests in Madrid in support of Spanish national soccer team player Jenni Hermoso, Pedro Rocha, interim president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), and the 18 regional federation chiefs met to discuss how to dissociate themselves from the management of Luis Rubiales, who has been suspended by FIFA over his behavior at the World Cup final, where he forcibly kissed Hermoso and made a crotch-grabbing gesture in the VIP box at Stadium Australia with Queen Letizia of Spain and her teenage daughter, Princess Sofía, standing nearby. After a five-hour meeting, the RFEF chiefs issued a communiqué in which they unanimously requested Rubiales’ resignation.
It was a lukewarm response, as the REFF executive committee has the capacity to table a motion of censure, a move that garnered some support at the meeting. It also would have been a decision in line with what the Spanish government had publicly demanded. Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and several leading politicians have called for Rubiales to step down, which the RFEF president staunchly refused to do at a press conference last Friday in which he claimed he was the focus of a witch-hunt by “false feminists.”
“After the latest developments and the unacceptable behavior that has caused great damage to the image of Spanish soccer, the presidents request that Luis Rubiales resign immediately as president of the RFEF,” the statement said.
FIFA has already suspended Rubiales. But Spanish institutions have been slower to act. The sporting justice system has been unable to get off the ground, with the Administrative Court of Sport (TAD), requesting more documentation from the Superior Sports Council (CSD), which will delay the latter’s ability to suspend Rubiales. CSD president Víctor Francos stressed in a press conference that the RFEF chief’s resignation should have been tendered last Friday.
Pressure is building on Rubiales on several fronts. The Spanish Prosecutor’s Office has opened a preliminary investigation against him for the possible crime of sexual aggression and major international newspapers, from The New York Times to The Guardian, continue to show enormous interest in the case, creating an international impact that can dent the Spain brand, drawing attention away from the success of the women’s team on the pitch and having an adverse effect on the government’s goal of hosting the 2030 men’s World Cup together with Portugal and Morocco. On Monday, Rubiales’ mother staged a hunger strike in a church in Motril in southern Spain in defense of her son, demanding an end to “the bloody and inhumane hounding” of the RFEF president.
The RFEF regional presidents also approved the suspension of Rubiales’ salary and blocked the financing of any legal fees at the federation’s expense. Francos, the head of the CSD, placed a call to Rocha, Rubiales’ interim replacement, and the territorial presidents shortly before the meeting, asking them to avoid putting on “another show,” in reference to Rubiales’ aggressive speech last Friday where far from appearing contrite and stepping down, he dug in his heels despite the decision by FIFA to place him on suspension. In view of the slow progress of potential action against Rubiales in the Spanish sports courts, it may well fall to the world governing body to definitively remove the RFEF president from soccer activity.
Calls for Rubiales to be made an example of have been growing globally. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has expressed his solidarity with Hermoso and said he hoped that the case “marks a turning point” in the world of sport, where women “continue to be subjected to sexual harassment and abuse.”
The manager of the Norway men’s soccer team, Stale Solbakken, has described Rubiales’ conduct at the women’s World Cup final as “unacceptable.”
“It was a bizarre situation that must be punished harshly. What he did was unacceptable and I think that it can only go one way,” Solbakken said during the announcement of his squad for Norway’s upcoming international fixtures. Asked about Rubiales’ refusal to resign, Solbakken acknowledged that the RFEF president has the right to fight his corner, “but he is going to lose this battle.”
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