The leader of Spain’s football federation marred the country’s Women’s World Cup victory after kissing a player on the lips during the medal ceremony, drawing criticism for inappropriate conduct in a sport that has struggled to overcome sexism.
The Spanish government and the world players’ union condemned the behaviour of Luis Rubiales on Monday, a day after Spain’s 1-0 win over England. The soccer federation led by Rubiales sought to downplay the incident through a statement it attributed to the player he kissed, then later released a video in which Rubiales apologized.
Immediately after Spain’s victory, Rubiales grabbed his crotch in a victory gesture – seemingly oblivious to 16-year-old Princess Infanta Sofía standing nearby. He later kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the medal and trophy ceremony on the field, drawing unwanted attention away from the celebration and souring the country’s biggest day for women’s football.
The kiss was shocking given the sport’s long-standing allegations of sexual misconduct by male football presidents and coaches against female players on national teams. Two of the 32 World Cup teams, Haiti and Zambia, had to deal with the issue while qualifying for the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Spain’s acting minister for sports and culture Miquel Iceta told public broadcaster RNE “it is unacceptable to kiss a player on the lips to congratulate her.” The world players’ union called the kiss “deeply lamentable.”
On Sunday, Spain’s government equality minister had an even stronger reaction.
“It is a form of sexual violence that women suffer on a daily basis, and which has been invisible so far, and which we should not normalize,” Irene Montero said wrote Sunday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The Spanish soccer federation released a statement late Sunday, attributed to Hermoso, to try to settle the controversy.
“It was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture due to the immense joy of winning a World Cup,” Hermoso said in the federation’s statement. “The president and I have a great relationship, his behaviour with all of us has been excellent and it was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.”
But on Monday the federation released a video statement of Rubiales apologising and acknowledging he “surely made a mistake” but in “a moment of maximum effusiveness.”
“When you are president of an institution as important as the federation, you have to be more careful,” Rubiales said in the video.
Rubiales, 45, led the world players’ union’s Spanish affiliate for eight years before being elected to lead the national soccer federation in 2018. The Spanish squad was in near-mutiny last year because of some players’ complaints about the culture under coach Jorge Vilda.
After the game, when Hermoso passed along the line of soccer dignitaries to collect her medal, Rubiales put his hands to her head and kissed her on the lips. He also hugged several other players and put his arm around Queen Letizia of Spain.
In an Instagram video in the dressing room after the incident, the players screamed and laughed while watching the kiss being replayed on a phone.
Hermoso can be seen laughing and shouting, “But I didn’t like it!” Asked by other players what she was doing, she shouted, “Look at me, look at me,” intimating she couldn’t do much about it.
FIFPRO, the Netherlands-based players’ union, took a harsh view of Rubiales’ actions.
“It is deeply lamentable that such a special moment for the players of the Spain national team that was taking place before a global television audience should be stained by the inappropriate conduct of an individual in a role carrying so much responsibility,” the union said in a statement.
“Uninitiated and uninvited physical gestures towards players are not appropriate or acceptable in any context. This is especially true when players are put in a position of vulnerability because a physical approach or gesture is initiated by a person who holds power over them.”
Rubiales also is a UEFA vice president and was the European soccer body’s most senior elected representative at the final in Australia.
Video clips filmed after the final whistle of Sunday’s match show Rubiales celebrating the victory in the front row of an exclusive section near the queen of Spain and FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Rubiales jumped with both arms in the air, pointing with both index fingers toward the field, then briefly grabbed his crotch with his right hand.
The former player has a key role in wooing soccer officials over the next year while trying to secure hosting rights for the men’s World Cup in 2030. Spain leads a joint bid with Portugal, Morocco and, currently, Ukraine for the 48-team tournament and is favoured to win next year’s decision.
UEFA and FIFA did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment about Rubiales’s conduct.