- By Guy Hedgecoe
- BBC News, Madrid
The Spanish government has called for the controversy over the football association president’s behavior to become football’s “Me Too moment.”
Luis Rubiales said he would not resign for kissing Spanish forward Jenni Hermoso on the lips after her victory in the Women’s World Cup final.
He was also criticized for grabbing his crotch while celebrating the victory, alongside Queen Letizia of Spain.
The dispute has raised long-standing tensions in Spain over women’s rights.
It is the latest incident in battles over major social and political changes within the country, including recent changes to the law to improve gender parity and more strictly define sexual consent.
Government ministers were among those calling for action to be taken against Rubiales, who has been president of the federation since 2018.
“This should be the MeToo moment for Spanish football,” said Víctor Francos, Secretary of State for Sports.
On Thursday, world football’s governing body FIFA announced it would open disciplinary proceedings against him, appearing to make his position untenable.
He was widely expected to resign on Friday. Instead, at an extraordinary meeting of the football association, Rubiales claimed that he was the victim of a witch hunt and insisted that he would not resign.
“I will not resign, I will not resign, I will not resign,” he told those present while defending the controversial kiss.
“It was a spontaneous, mutual and euphoric kiss,” he said. “And, above all, consensual.”
Rubiales went further, accusing his critics of using “false feminism” to persecute him and claiming that he was the victim of “a social murder.”
The government announced that it would take steps to remove Mr. Rubiales from office and bring him to court.
“At no time did I consent to the kiss,” said the Spanish forward. “I don’t tolerate my words being questioned.”
Dozens of members of the women’s national team said Friday that they would not play a game for the country until Rubiales was removed from his position.
Several teammates expressed their support for Ms. Hermoso, and two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas posted on the social network X: “This is unacceptable. It’s over. With you, friend.”
The Rubiales affair appears to contribute to broader social changes in Spanish society in recent years, which have included legislation promoting sexual consent and gender parity.
“This is a critical moment in this country, people are moving towards greater gender equality,” said Carolina García, sports journalist for the Telemadrid television network.
“My grandfather’s Spain was very different from today’s, but the important thing is that we continue to move forward. That is what we have to achieve as a society.”
Feminism has frequently become a political battleground, pitting Pedro Sánchez’s left-wing coalition government against the opposition, particularly the far-right party Vox.
Among Mr. Rubiales’s staunchest critics is Irene Montero, Minister of Equality and the most visible promoter of the government’s feminist agenda. She was also the promoter of the “Only Yes Means Yes” law, which sought to repress non-consensual sexual relations.
That controversial legislation was prompted in large part by the gang rape of a young woman in Pamplona during San Fermines in 2016, in a case that became known as “The Wolf Pack.” The five men responsible were initially only convicted of sexual abuse, not rape (before their sentences were reviewed).
The social reaction that followed the initial verdict not only contributed to a change in the law, but also appeared to change attitudes in Spain about consent in sexual relations.
Beyond the gender-related backlash against Rubiales, there is also anger in Spain that this episode has threatened to overshadow the Spanish women’s team’s achievement of winning its first World Cup.
“We should have spent the last five days talking about our (women’s team)!” Iker Casillas, captain of the men’s team that won the 2010 World Cup, wrote on the social network X.
“Of the happiness they gave us all!”