Luis Rubiales finally caved in after days of intense pressure and will quit as head of Spain’s football federation following a scandal over kissing a female player on the lips after the team won the Women’s World Cup.
The move came three weeks after the 46-year-old, who is facing criminal charges in Spain, defiantly rejected calls to step aside, insisting that the player had consented to the kiss. The scandal soured celebrations over the nation’s first triumph in the tournament and highlighted gender inequality in both Spain and in the world’s most popular sport.
Rubiales told Piers Morgan in an interview that aired late Sunday that he would resign because “I cannot continue my work.” He said he made the decision after talking with his family and friends.
Following the Aug. 20 final in Australia, Rubiales held Jennifer Hermoso’s head in his hands and kissed her on the lips as she and other players received medals for winning the title. He said the player had consented, but Hermoso rejected his explanation as “categorically false” and said that no such conversation had taken place.
Just minutes after the incident on a live Instagram feed in the locker room, Spain’s top scorer told fellow players that she “didn’t like it.” Later, she disputed Rubiales’s claims and said she was the victim of “an impulse-driven sexist.” During the game, the country’s football chief was also seen grabbing his crotch as he celebrated a goal near Spain’s Queen Letizia and one of her daughters.
On Sept. 6, Hermoso filed a criminal complaint against Rubiales in Madrid, and two days later a Spanish prosecutor pressed charges against him.
The scandal had reached the political arena as Spain struggles to form a government following general elections on July 23. The current caretaker administration — a coalition of the Socialists and far-left groups — pledged to do its best to oust him. Victor Francos, Spain’s top sports official, called it the “Me Too” moment for football in the country.
Rubiales’s behavior is proof that “there is still a lot to be done in this country when it comes to gender equality and respect,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Aug. 22. “What we saw was unacceptable.”
At a gathering of mostly-male Spanish football officials on Aug. 25, Rubiales surprised friends and foes by rejecting the pressure. He repeated five times that he would not resign. Many members applauded, including the female team’s coach Jorge Vilda.
But his efforts to undermine Hermoso triggered a wave of condemnation and turned public opinion against him. FIFA, the global governing body, suspended Rubiales on Aug. 26 for 90 days and the entire women’s squad refused to play again for Spain while he remained in his post. He was replaced by a caretaker president .
A global movement emerged to support Hermoso and her teammates. Outrage in social media coalesced around the phrase “se acabo” — which means “it’s over” — referring both to Rubiales and the broader issue of sexual harassment of women. In central Madrid, hundreds of people marched on Monday evening chanting “it’s not a peck, it’s aggression.”
Rubiales became increasingly isolated. Vilda and his counterpart on the men’s team subsequently condemned the behavior. And in a sharp turnaround from the cheering, after he was suspended by Fifa the heads of regional football associations demanded his resignation, calling Rubiales’s behavior “unacceptable.”
Spain has strict legislation on sexual consent, outlined in a highly controversial law known as “Only Yes Means Yes,” and legal repercussions may continue. Prosecutors last week filed charges against football chief Luis Rubiales for sexual assault and coercion for the kiss he gave player Jennifer Hermoso last month while celebrating the country’s Women’s World Cup win in Australia.
— With assistance by Max Zimmerman