The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has called for its president Luis Rubiales to resign amid the ongoing backlash over his controversial behavior at the Women’s World Cup (WWC) final and combative response after being called out.
The move comes a week after Rubiales kissed Spanish player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent following Spain’s victory in the final.
Since then, he has been suspended by international governing body FIFA, while Spanish prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into whether the incident amounts to sexual assault. The Spanish government has also requested Rubiales be suspended from the post.
However, throughout the fallout, Rubiales has defiantly refused to step down from his position and has instead claimed the kiss was “mutual and consensual” and he is being vilified.
Yesterday evening (August 28), the RFEF said: “After recent events and the unacceptable behavior that has seriously damaged the image of Spanish football, the [regional] presidents request that Luis Rubiales resign immediately as president of the RFEF.
“We will urge the relevant authorities to carry out a profound and imminent organizational restructuring in strategic positions of the federation in order to make way for a new stage in the management of Spanish football.”
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The regional presidents also said they would give their “unanimous support” to interim RFEF chief executive Pedro Rocha and called for an overhaul of the federation’s management.
The statement is a massive turnaround by the RFEF days after threatening Hermoso with legal action after she stated the kiss was not consensual. More recently, the RFEF requested that UEFA expel the organization for breaking the European governing body’s statutes on state interference.
The move was seen as a desperate attempt to keep Rubiales in as president and would see top clubs including Real Madrid and Barcelona removed from the Champions League.
Rubiales’ mother Angeles Bejar, meanwhile, has locked herself in a Spanish church and went on a hunger strike to protest the treatment of her son, while hundreds gathered in the center of Madrid in support of Hermoso.
However, more voices against Rubiales have accumulated since the end of the World Cup, starting with the 23 champion players, as well as government ministers and the presidents of several domestic LaLiga clubs.
The most high-profile criticism of Rubiales’ actions has come from the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, who expressed anger at what he called an “unacceptable gesture.”
He added that Rubiales’ apology was “insufficient,” and “they are inappropriate – he must go further.”
Rubiales was first elected to the helm in May 2018 to complete the term of Ángel María Villar, the long-serving leader of the federation, who had been ousted following a corruption scandal.
He then was unopposed for an election in mid-2020, thus securing a four-year term as president.
During his tenure, Rubiales, the former head of the AFE, the Spanish footballers' association, has been involved in high-profile disputes with LaLiga president Javier Tebas over various issues.
Regarding the commercial impact this could have on Spanish soccer, Conrad Wiacek, GlobalData's head of sport analysis, said: “With the news that the RFEF had requested to withdraw from UEFA because of the suspension of Rubiales, the wider commercial implications for Spanish football cannot be underestimated.
“With LaLiga facing numerous questions regarding its approach to allegations of racism, the doubling down of the national federation to allegations of sexism and misogyny will cause numerous sponsors to question their commitment to the national team for both the male and female teams, despite their status as world champions.
“Club sponsors will also have been looking on over the weekend with alarm, as withdrawing from UEFA would have meant Real Madrid, Barcelona, Real Sociedad, and Atletico Madrid all withdrawing from the UEFA Champions League, which for some would have meant difficult conversations with major sponsors and partners, not to mention the loss of broadcasting revenue from the competition.
“While Rubiales continues to protest his innocence despite evidence to the contrary, the shockwave from his actions continues to wreak havoc with the wider commercial infrastructure of Spanish football, an infrastructure which is not able to weather any further post-COVID turmoil.”