FIFA suspends Spanish soccer president over controversial World Cup kiss

FIFA suspended the president of the Spanish soccer federation Saturday after star player Jenni Hermoso accused him of a nonconsensual kiss during the celebrations of Spain’s Women’s World Cup victory.  

Luis Rubiales will be provisionally suspended from “all football-related activities at national and international level” for 90 days, soccer’s governing body said in a statement Saturday.

Rubiales and representatives from the Royal Spanish Football Federation were also ordered to refrain from contacting Hermoso and anyone close to her, the statement said.

Rubiales had been informed about “the decision adopted by the chairman of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee,” it added.

The announcement came hours after Spain’s soccer federation said Saturday it would take legal action to defend Rubiales from “lies.”    

In a statement posted on its website, the federation said Rubiales “has stated that he will legally defend himself in the competent bodies, he fully trusts the FIFA instances and reiterates that, in this way, he is given the opportunity to begin his defense so that the truth prevails and his complete innocence is proven.”

The statement did not say what the legal action would consist of. It added that Pedro Rocha Junco, the vice president of the federation, would be the interim president.

Hermoso said in a statement Friday that she did not consent to the kiss and felt “vulnerable and the victim of an aggression.” She added that Rubiales’ explanation about “the unfortunate event” was “categorically false and part of the manipulative culture he has created.”

Rubiales was passing out gold medals to the team after its 1-0 victory over England in Sydney on Sunday when he hugged and kissed Hermoso.  

Despite widespread speculation that he would quit, Rubiales who has called the kiss “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual,” refused to resign over his actions Friday.

At an emergency general assembly of the federation Friday, he said “I won’t resign” four times in quick succession and claimed he was a victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists.”

He received some applause from the overwhelming male assembly after telling them that she had lifted him up in celebration and he asked her for “a little kiss?” and she said yes. “The kiss was the same I could give one of my daughters,” Rubiales said.

In her statement, Hermoso denied Rubiales’ contention that the kiss he gave her was consensual. “I want to clarify that, as was seen in the images, at no time did I consent to the kiss he gave me and, of course, in no case did I seek to lift the president,” she said. 

The player has won the support of the Spanish government, which cannot fire Rubiales but has  strongly denounced his actions and is moving to get him suspended using a legal procedure before a sports tribunal. 

Acting Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz called his speech on Friday “unacceptable”. She wrote on social media that “the government must act and take urgent measures: impunity for macho actions is over. Rubiales cannot continue in office.”

Her teammates have also backed her. All 23 of the cup-winning squad including Hermoso, as well as 32 other squad members, said they would not play internationals while Rubiales remained head of the federation.

In a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, Spain’s Association of Professional Soccer Players said via their FUTPRO union that the team wanted “to express their firm and resounding condemnation” of Rubiales. 

“It fills us with sadness that such an unacceptable event is managing to tarnish the greatest sporting success of Spanish women’s football,” it said, adding,  “After everything that happened during the delivery of medals of the Women’s World Cup, we want to state that all the players who sign this letter will not return to a call of the National Team if the current leaders continue.”

FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee also said Friday that it had opened an investigation into Rubiales. Soccer’s governing body said in a news release that his actions “may constitute violations” of its disciplinary code. 

Gender issues have become a prominent topic in Spain in recent years. Tens of thousands of women have taken part in street marches protesting sexual abuse and violence.

The Socialist-led coalition government has presided over legal reforms including around equal pay, abortion, sex work and transgender rights.