Luis Rubiales eventually yielded to mounting pressure and stepped down as the leader of Spain’s football federation, following a controversy involving a kiss he shared with a female player on the lips after the Women’s World Cup victory.
This decision came after three weeks of defiance from the 46-year-old, who was facing legal charges in Spain. Initially, he had firmly rejected calls to resign, asserting that the player had given her consent for the kiss. However, this scandal cast a shadow over the nation’s celebratory mood after their historic triumph and underscored gender inequality issues within Spain and the world’s most popular sport.
On Sunday, the Spanish football association officially announced Rubiales’ resignation in a late-night statement. In an earlier television interview with Piers Morgan, Rubiales explained that he was stepping down because “I cannot continue my work.” He stated that his decision was influenced by discussions with his family and friends.
In addition to resigning as head of the Spanish football federation, Rubiales also relinquished his role as vice-president of UEFA, the European governing body for football.
The controversy began when, after the August 20 final in Australia, Rubiales kissed Jennifer Hermoso on the lips while she and her teammates received their medals for winning the title. Rubiales claimed that the player had consented, but Hermoso vehemently denied this, calling his explanation “categorically false” and stating that no such conversation had taken place.
Moments after the incident, during a live Instagram feed in the locker room, Spain’s top scorer conveyed to her fellow players that she “didn’t like it.” Later, she refuted Rubiales’ claims and asserted that she had been a victim of “impulse-driven sexism.” Additionally, during the game, the country’s football chief was seen making an inappropriate gesture in proximity to Spain’s Queen Letizia and one of her daughters.
Jennifer Hermoso filed a criminal complaint against Rubiales in Madrid on September 6, and two days later, a Spanish prosecutor formally charged him.
This scandal extended its reach into the political arena as Spain grappled with the formation of a government following general elections on July 23. The interim administration, a coalition of Socialists and far-left groups, pledged to oust Rubiales. Victor Francos, Spain’s top sports official, characterized it as a “Me Too” moment for football in the country.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez commented on August 22 that Rubiales’ behavior was proof that “there is still much work to be done in this country when it comes to gender equality and respect.”
In a gathering of predominantly male Spanish football officials on August 25, Rubiales surprised both supporters and critics by steadfastly refusing to resign, repeating five times that he would not step down. Many members applauded this decision, including the female team’s coach, Jorge Vilda, who was subsequently dismissed.
However, Rubiales’ attempts to undermine Hermoso led to a wave of condemnation and a shift in public sentiment against him. FIFA, the global governing body, responded by suspending Rubiales for 90 days on August 26, and the entire women’s squad refused to represent Spain as long as he remained in office. He was eventually replaced by an interim president.
A global movement emerged in support of Hermoso and her teammates, with social media outrage coalescing around the phrase “se acabo,” which means “it’s over.” In central Madrid, hundreds of people marched, chanting “it’s not a peck, it’s aggression.”
Spain has stringent legislation regarding sexual consent, as outlined in a highly controversial law known as “Only Yes Means Yes.” Legal repercussions may continue, as prosecutors filed charges against football chief Luis Rubiales for sexual assault and coercion in connection with the kiss he shared with player Jennifer Hermoso following Spain’s Women’s World Cup victory in Australia.