Spanish soccer kiss controversy continues

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(LONDON) — A second week into the backlash that followed the non-consensual kiss between Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) President Luis Rubiales and player Jenni Hermoso, the world of Spanish soccer is still shaken and seeking accountability.

Protests and reactions to the kiss continue, with worries that the controversy will negatively affect Spain’s reputation, and its efforts to host the World Cup in 2030.

“This is not about political left or right. With his behavior, Rubiales undermined not only Jenni’s dignity but that of Spain as well,” La Liga President Javier Tebas wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known Twitter. La Liga is Spain’s premier men’s soccer league.

Spanish tennis star and 2023 Wimbledon men’s singles champion Carlos Alcaraz also criticized Rubiales in comments after winning his first-round match at the US Open. “My opinion is that it is not the behavior that someone in a high position should have,” Alcaraz said Wednesday. “That’s the only opinion that I am going to give on the matter and we hope it is resolved soon because the women’s team has achieved something historic and they have not been given as much credit for what they’ve done, and it’s a shame.”

Rubiales kissed Hermoso following the Spanish women’s soccer team’s first-ever World Cup victory on August 20, when they defeated England 1-0 in Sydney, Australia. Rubiales grabbed Hermoso’s head in both of his hands during the post-match medal ceremony and kissed her on the mouth.

Amid the growing criticism, Rubiales’ mother, Ángeles Béjar, continued her hunger strike for the third day, barricaded in the Divina Pastora de Motril church near Granada. “I don’t care to die for justice,” she said on Tuesday. “My son is a decent person and what they are doing to him is not fair.”

Meanwhile, a video surfaced online Wednesday, showing Jenni Hermoso and her teammates hours after the World Cup match as they commented on images of the kiss, which were already circulating on social media.

“Like Iker and Sara,” Hermoso said in the video, referring to the famous kiss between world champion men’s soccer star Iker Casillas and journalist Sara Carbonero after Spain won the World Cup in 2010.

“Kiss! Kiss!” those on the bus then chanted as Rubiales boarded the vehicle.

“Stop, I am getting embarrassed,” Rubiales replied, just before the video ends.

Both Rubiales and Hermoso spoke about the episode last week, once the winning team returned to Madrid. Rubiales held a press conference on Friday at RFEF headquarters, saying multiple times he was not going to resign because what he called the “little kiss” was consensual. For her part, Hermoso followed with a statement in which she reiterated that the kiss was not consensual, and maintained that her World Cup-winning team deserved better.

The RFEF stood by its president, threatening legal action against Hermoso until Saturday, when FIFA, the governing body of international football, announced that Rubiales would be suspended for 90 days, pending disciplinary proceedings.

Then, following an emergency meeting on Monday, the RFEF asked for Rubiales’ resignation. “After the latest events and the unacceptable behaviors that have seriously damaged the image of Spanish football, the presidents request that Mr. Luis Rubiales immediately present his resignation as president of the RFEF,” the statement declared. The RFEF also withdrew earlier threats to leave the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) if Rubiales was removed.

Jorge Vilda, the Spanish national women’s football team head coach and a longstanding ally of Rubiales who supported him during his “I will not resign” speech Friday, issued a statement the following day in which he said, in part, “I regret deeply that the victory of Spanish women’s football has been harmed by the inappropriate behavior that our, until now, top leader, Luis Rubiales, has carried out and that he himself has recognized.”

However, Vilda has not called on Rubiales to resign, nor did Vilda address increasing calls for him to resign because of his continued support of Rubiales. Pressure for Vilda to step down intensified with the resignation of his coaching staff Monday, in support of team members who vowed last week not to play as long as Rubiales remained RFEF president.

Vilda has his own complicated relationship with the players, after 15 members of his team wrote an open letter to RFEF in September of last year complaining about the coach. The RFEF then sided with Vilda.

Support for Hermoso manifested over the weekend with mass resignations of players and Spain’s national team staff, as well as crowds of protestors and social media posts with the hashtags #ContigoJenni and #SeAcabó, meaning “With you Jenni” and “It’s over,” respectively.

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