Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales has refused to resign from his position as Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president following a week of fierce criticism after video showed him placing an unwanted kiss on a star player of Spain’s winning Women’s World Cup team.
Rubiales was speaking at the federation’s Extraordinary General Assembly on Friday and said he will “fight to the end.”
In a defiant speech, he described the kiss as “mutual” and spoke of “unjust” campaigns and “fake feminism,” and emphatically said, “I will not resign” several times during the almost 30-minute address.
Rubiales, 46, was filmed forcibly kissing Spain star Jennifer Hermoso – who helped La Roja win its first Women’s World Cup title on Sunday in Sydney – on the lips after she collected her winners’ medal, an act which the 33-year-old World Cup winner later said she “didn’t like” and “didn’t expect.”
While Rubiales was applauded at the assembly by many in the audience, his comments on Friday also elicited further criticism, especially from some members of the Spanish soccer community, including Hermoso’s international teammate and two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who called his speech “unacceptable.”
Spain international and Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias said he would not play for the national team “until things change,” while Spain’s acting second deputy prime minister, Yolanda Díaz, called for Rubiales to “resign now.”
“Mr. Rubiales still has no idea where he is or what he’s done,” wrote Díaz on X, previously known as Twitter. “He’s not up to it. He needs to resign now and save us the embarrassment,” she added.
On Monday, Rubiales admitted he had “made a mistake,” but criticism continued to pour in throughout the week from the soccer world and Spanish politicians, including Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, who said the apology for what he called an “unacceptable gesture” was “not enough.”
Following Rubiales’ comments on Friday, the president of Spain’s High Council of Sport (CSD), Víctor Francos, said the council will look to suspend Rubiales as quickly as it can while following due process.
“The government starts the processes today, so that Mr. Rubiales will have to explain himself to TAD (the Court of Arbitration of Sport) and we announce as well that, if TAD sees it well and if CSD is in position to do so, I’m announcing today that we will suspend Mr. Rubiales from his position of president of RFEF,” Francos said, while adding that he believed “we’re in position to call this the ‘Me Too’ of Spanish football.”
The CSD is an autonomous decision-making body of the Spanish government’s Ministry of Culture and Sport and has the potential power to demand the removal of Rubiales, but to do so the body needs to follow a series of required steps, including having a complaint filed against him and the case having to be heard in front of a tribunal.
Francos acknowledged that the process to suspend Rubiales may look to the public like the government is dragging their feet, but this was “complicated process, I won’t lie to anyone.”
He added the events in Sydney “can never happen again and … as the responsible figure for Spanish sport, I apologize to the players because they didn’t deserve this week.”
‘It was a spontaneous kiss,’ says Rubiales
The embattled president issued a staunch defense of his actions on Friday, saying: “Everyone there – even some of my family, my daughters – the desire that could have been there in that kiss is exactly the same that could have been as giving a kiss to one of my daughters. No more, no less.
“It was a spontaneous kiss … It was spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and with consent, which is the key. This is the key to all of the criticism, of all of the campaign which has been mounted in this country: that it was without consent. No. It was with consent.”
Rubiales also said that he was in “no position of dominance” during the kiss and that he had wanted to console Hermoso, who had missed a penalty to put Spain 2-0 ahead during the final.
“When Jenni first showed up, she lifted me up from the ground. She grabbed me by the hips, by the legs, I don’t remember well,” he said. “She lifted me up from the ground – and we almost fell down.
“And when she put me down on the ground, we hugged each other. She’s the one who picked me up in her arms and she pulled me into her body. We hugged and I told her, ‘Forget about the penalty. You were fantastic, we wouldn’t have won this World Cup without you.’ She replied to me, ‘You are awesome.’ And I said, ‘A small peck?’ And she said, ‘OK.’
“Then the peck happened during all of this celebration with her patting me on the side a few times and then excusing herself with one more hand on the side and going off laughing. That’s the whole sequence. That the whole world understood, that the whole world thought was an anecdote, and above all, she said was an anecdote and nothing more.”
CNN has reached out to Spain’s Association of Professional Soccer Players (FUTPRO) and RFEF for comment.
On Wednesday, following strong criticism of Rubiales’ kiss from journalists, politicians, and campaign groups, Hermoso said that FUTPRO and her agency TMJ would be “defending my interests and acting as spokespersons on this matter.”
Then on Thursday, global governing body FIFA said that it had opened disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales as he may have violated the game’s “basic rules of decent conduct.”
While acknowledging he needed to apologize for his actions, Rubiales described calls for his resignation as a “witch hunt.”
“… the thing with the kiss, which I said was free, was mutual, which was with consent, but obviously, I still have to ask for forgiveness for the context in which it occurred. I’m not living outside of the world and I know that I made a mistake in this,” he said. “But do we think that this merits the witch hunt which I’m suffering? Do you really believe that?
“Another thing is what someone has to say publicly, but do you think it merits this hunt? So that they ask for my resignation? Is it so serious so that I have to leave having done the best leadership in the history of Spanish football?
“Do you think I have to resign? Well, I’m going to tell you something: I’m not going to resign! I’m not going to resign! I won’t resign! I’m not going to resign! I’m not going to resign!”
‘An entirely unacceptable and damaging message’
In response to Rubiales’ speech, global players’ union FIFPRO said it was again calling for “immediate disciplinary action.”
“We welcome FIFA’s decision to open an ethics case, and steps taken at national level in Spain. Furthermore, we have written to UEFA – the organisation of which Mr. Rubiales is a vice-president – requesting that it starts disciplinary proceedings,” it said in a statement.
“Any lack of action by authorities in addressing the conduct of Mr. Rubiales would send an entirely unacceptable and damaging message to the football industry and wider society.”
In a statement, FC Barcelona said the club considered Rubiales’ behavior during the World Cup celebrations as “totally improper” and “inappropriate.”
“In the light of his unjustifiable incident, FC Barcelona remains committed to its policy of supporting women’s sport, equality between men and women in sport and in society in genera