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Luis Rubiales: a rundown of the controversy around the Spanish FA president

Three weeks after kissing Hermoso at the World Cup final, Rubiales has finally resigned and Jorge Vilda has been fired. Here is a timeline of everything is took to get here – from hunger strikes to mass protests

Last Sunday (August 20), Spain won the 2023 World Cup – a first for the women’s team. However, what should have been a time of celebration and jubilation for the Spanish players and fans, and a great moment for women’s sports after the historic success of the tournament, was tainted by the actions of two men: Jorge Vilda, the coach of the women’s Spanish national team, and Luis Rubiales, Spanish FA president. 

While congratulating the Spanish players as they accepted their gold medals after the match, Rubiales forcibly kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips. He was also filmed grabbing his crotch in celebration as the final whistle blew and saying he was going to marry Hermoso in Ibiza. Meanwhile, Vilda’s alleged inappropriate behaviour resulted in 15 members of the women’s Spanish national team going on strike last year.

The two men’s behaviour highlighted, once again, how deeply entrenched systemic sexism, misogyny and abuse are within the women’s game in Spain, and more widely across the world. Almost immediately following the match, people from within the world of football and beyond started speaking out against Rubiales, putting pressure on him to resign – though he is currently refusing to. Here is everything you need to know about the situation.


In the 2023 World Cup final last Sunday, Spain played against England, winning 1-0. As the final whistle blew, Rubiales grabbed his crotch, and then forcibly kissed Hermoso, Spain’s all-time leading scorer, while congratulating her during the medal presentation ceremony. Later, he entered the players’ dressing room, where he was reportedly overheard on an Instagram livestream saying he was going to pay for a trip to Ibiza where he would marry Hermoso.

That evening, Hermoso spoke out about the kiss on Instagram, admitting she “did not enjoy it”. Following the match, the Spanish FA circulated a statement on behalf of Hermoso which read, in part, “This was a totally spontaneous and mutual gesture due to the immense joy that winning the World Cup gave us. The president and I have a great relationship, his behaviour with everyone has been excellent and it was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.”

However, a few days later, it was revealed that the statement did not come from Hermoso and she hadn’t even been informed about the post. Spanish media also reported that Rubiales and Spain boss Jorge Vilda repeatedly pressured Jenni Hermoso and her family for the player to appear in an apology video, which they refused. Rubiales initially described criticism of his actions as “idiocy [that] should be ignored,” but ‘apologised’ the following day. In a video statement, he said he and Hermoso saw the kiss as “something natural, normal and in no way, I repeat, with bad faith”.


In the days following the match, Rubiales faced mounting calls to resign and criticism from politicians and other players. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Rubiales’ apology was “not enough” and second deputy prime minister Yolanda Diaz called on him to resign. 

Javier Tebas, the head of Spain’s top division La Liga, said the sport was having to “live with dealing with him as president of the RFEF. The misogynistic gestures, the profane expressions, the protocol disaster and the insults of this latest global embarrassment are not a surprise.” He added: “The list of women and men aggrieved by Luis Rubiales these years is too long and this must stop.” 

One of those women includes former AFE (Spanish players’ association) employee Tamara Ramos who alleged that Rubiales used to say to her things like: “come on, you came here to get on your knees” and “what colour is your underwear today”. There have also been complaints, from his uncle and the former director of his cabinet, that he used RFEF money to organise sex parties.

Megan Rapinoe, US national player and Ballon d’Or winner, attacked the “deep level of misogyny and sexism” in the Spanish football federation. “On the biggest stage, where you should be celebrating, Jenni has to be physically assaulted by this guy,” Rapinoe said in an interview with The Atlantic


On Wednesday (August 23), three days after the final, Hermoso put out a joint statement with her union and agency saying they were pursuing sanctions against Rubiales. “We are working to ensure that acts such as those we have seen never go unpunished, that they are sanctioned and that the exemplary measures are adopted to protect women footballers from actions that we believe are unacceptable.”

On Thursday (August 24), it was announced that the FIFA Disciplinary Committee was opening disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales. Meanwhile, La Liga clubs including Atlético de Madrid, Getafe, Real Sociedad and Osasuna joined the calls for his resignation.

However, during a press conference earlier today (August 25), he doubled down on his position and shouted repeatedly that he was not going to resign. Defending the kiss, Rubiales said: “Jenni was the one who lifted me up. I told her to ‘forget about the penalty’ and I said to her ‘a little peck?’ and she said ‘OK’... A consensual ‘peck’ is enough to get me out of here? I will fight until the end.” He continued on to say that a “social assassination was taking place” and that he was “ready to be vilified to defend my ideals”. He finished his speech shouting “I am not resigning” to applause from some members of the audience. It was also revealed that he had offered Jorge Vilda a four-year extension on his contract for €500,000 a year.


In September 2022, 15 players from Spain’s women’s senior team sent letters to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) asking not to be selected for the national team. They cited a lack of professionalism which negatively impacted their emotional state and their health. Among their complaints was that coach Jorge Vilda allegedly forced the players to keep their hotel room doors open until midnight so he could personally see that they were there. He would inspect their bags if they went shopping and required them to report to him who they were going out for coffee with. 

Known as ‘Las 15’, the players who went on strike included stars like Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldentey, Ona Batlle, Patri Guijarro, Mapi Leon, Sandra Panos and Claudia Pina. Three additional players did not send emails but nevertheless voiced their support for the others: Alexia Putellas, Jennifer Hermoso, and captain Irene Paredes. Instead of working with the players to resolve the situation, however, the federation instantly backed Vilda and criticised those who protested. 

Eventually, eight of the 15 players made themselves available for selection on the World Cup team, and three made the cut: Bonmati, Caldentey, and Batlle. Another three players, Barcelona stars Leon, Guijarro, and Pina, did not change their stance and stood firm in their boycott of the team.

This was not the first time players on the women’s team in Spain had been forced to take a stand against a coach. In 2015, the team revolted against Ignacio Quereda and the alleged culture of fear, bigotry, sexism and homophobia that he created over 27 years as national team head coach. Although the campaign was a success, outspoken players like Vero Boquete never played for the team again after being left off the roster from then on.


Almost immediately after the press conference today (August 25), criticism against Rubiales intensified from the media, those in the industry and male and female players. Borja Iglesias announced he was resigning from the national team as long as Rubiales is there. Alexia Putellas, widely considered the best women’s player in the world, tweeted it was “unacceptable”. Fellow Barcelona teammates Ana Crgorcevic, Mapi Leon, Ingrid Engen, Irene Paredes, Patri Guijarro, Aitana Bonmati and Caroline Graham Hansen, as well as Arsenal players Lia Walti, and Beth Mead, also released statements of support. 

The World Cup winning squad along with 2015 World Cup squad and former players of the Spanish national team have announced they are going to release a joint statement shortly “for everything that we’ve had to suffer and live. We’re going all in.”

As the number of voices speaking out against Rubiales grows by the minute, it seems inconceivable that he will be able to survive in his position much longer. As of writing, the Spanish Sports Council has just announced suspension of Rubiales from his duties until he can give an explanation to the tribunal administration of sport.

However, even if action is finally taken against him and the Spanish federation, the toxic and abusive culture in women’s football extends far beyond Spain. Last month, it was revealed that the head coach of Zambia’s women’s football team has been investigated over allegations of sexual misconduct. Meanwhile, last year numerous coaches in the US were accused of sexual misconduct and abuse including former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly, former Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley and former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames. 

As Hedvig Lindahl, goalkeeper for the Swedish national team, wrote on Twitter today: “This fight is not only Spain's fight. This is a fight for everyone against toxic culture in football. Rubiales is a symbol of something much bigger, the system that needs to go!”


On Friday afternoon, the Spanish women’s team released a joint statement announcing they will not play squad matches until the federation leadership is changed. The letter was signed by the 23 players from the World Cup squad, alongside 58 other current and past players including Leon, Guijarro, and Pina.

The statement also confirms that Hermoso did not consent to the kiss. “I want to clarify that, as was seen in the images, at no time did I consent to the kiss he gave me,” Hermoso said. “I do not tolerate my word being questioned and much less the invention of words I have not said.”

Shortly after, Hermoso released a statement of her own, where she once again confirmed the kiss was not mutual or consenual and added that his claims were “categorically false and part of the manipulative culture that he has generated.”

More names from the world of football have continued to speak out against Rubiales including Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Ada Hegerberg, Alex Greenwood, Kosovare Asllani and Alex Scott.


As of Saturday, the Spanish football federation has now threatened to sue Hermoso for lying and defamation. It has also threatened legal action against the women’s football players who signed the letter in which they refused to play for their country as long as Rubiales remained in his post. In a statement, the RFEF said it would take the “necessary legal action” and told the players that “playing for the national team is an obligation on any member of the federation called upon to do so”.

Meanwhile, women’s teams around the world have continued to show support for Hermoso and the Spanish players. England’s Lionesses released a joint statement saying, in part, “unacceptable actions allowed to happen by a sexist and patriarchal organisation. Abuse is abuse and we have all seen the truth.” It ends with: “We all stand with you, Jenni Hermoso and all players of the Spanish team.”


A few hours after the RFEF announced its intention to sue Hermoso for lying and defamation, Fifa has said it is provisionally suspending Rubiales. The 90-day suspension bans the Spanish FA president from all football related activity and he is also banned from contacting Hermoso. The RFEF and its officials or employees are also banned from contacting Hermoso.

A Fifa statement said: “The chairman of the Fifa Disciplinary Committee, Jorge Ivan Palacio (Colombia), in use of the powers granted by article 51 of the Fifa Disciplinary Code (FDC), has decided today to provisionally suspend Mr. Luis Rubiales from all football-related activities at national and international level.”

This was followed by the RFEF tripling down with a new statement which read: “We have to state that Ms. Jennifer Hermoso lies in every statement she makes against the President.” However, shortly after it was announced that there has been a mass resignation of coaching staff from the womens national team. 11 members of the technical staff have resigned from their positions ranging from senior national team assistant manager, U19/U20 coach, senior team analyst and the senior team physiotherapist. In a joint statement the coaching staff condemn Rubiales conduct and offer their support to Hermoso and the Spanish players. The resignations will leave the manager Jorge Vilda on his own. 


Three weeks after kissing Hermoso at the World Cup final, Rubiales has finally resigned as president of the Spanish Football Federation, as well as from his position as vice-president of Uefas executive committee.

So much has happened in order to get to this point, and at times one wondered whether it was possible to get more absurd. There was the moment with the RFEF asked Uefa to suspend all Spanish teams from international competitions which would have resulted in, among other things, neither the men or the women’s Spanish teams competing the in Champions League. There was the time that Rubiales’ mother went on hunger strike and locked herself in a church until she was forced to be hospitalised.

We also saw people across Spain gather to protest against Rubiales and the Federation in what the media called the countrys Me Too moment. Last week, Vilda was fired from his position as coach and Hermoso filed a legal complaint against Rubiales for sexual assault and coercion which means he could face criminal charges.

It is undoubtedly a big victory that both Vilda and Rubiales are no longer in their positions, however, the problems run much deeper than just the two men. After Vilda was fired last week, the Spanish team – who are currently on strike – let the Federation know that they would not return until more changes in the structure of the organisation were made, and they have yet to announce whether this latest developement will be sufficient.