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Spanish football chief Luis Rubiales to step down over World Cup kiss, reports El Pais

The President of the Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales speaks to reporters during a news conference at Qatar University
The President of the Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales speaks to reporters during a news conference at Qatar University Copyright AP Photo
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By Euronews with AP
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Rubiales kissed star player Jenni Hermoso on the lips as he handed the Spanish team gold medals after they beat England 1-0 in the final on Sunday in Sydney, provoking outrage in Spain.

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Spanish Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales is stepping down, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on Thursday, hours after world football's governing body, FIFA, announced it was opening a disciplinary case against him following his conduct at the Women's World Cup final on Sunday.

Rubiales, 45, kissed star player Jenni Hermoso on the lips as he handed the Spanish team gold medals after they beat England 1-0 in the final on Sunday in Sydney, provoking outrage in Spain. He kissed other players on the cheek or embraced them.

Minutes earlier, Rubiales grabbed his crotch as a victory gesture in the exclusive section of seats with Queen Letizia of Spain and 16-year-old Princess Sofía standing nearby.

Rubiales investigated by FIFA

Rubiales was facing FIFA's disciplinary committee which was getting ready to weigh whether he violated its code relating to "the basic rules of decent conduct” and “behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”

In a statement on Thursday, the football organisation said, "FIFA reiterates its unwavering commitment to respecting the integrity of all individuals and strongly condemns any behaviour to the contrary."

The body's disciplinary judges can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport.

But rather than risk disqualification by the Superior Sports Council, Rubiales has chosen voluntary redundancy, according to El Pais. 

His case likely would have been judged by three of the 16-panel members. Three of the 16 are women from England, Mexico and Thailand.

The Spanish soccer federation, which Rubiales has led for five years, was also set to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Madrid.

The leader of Spain’s football federation marred the country’s Women’s World Cup victory, drawing criticism for inappropriate conduct in a sport that has struggled to overcome sexism.

'Insufficient': Spanish PM blasts football boss' apology over kiss

On Tuesday, the Spanish PM, Pedro Sanchez, condemned Rubiales's apology over the kiss as "insufficient".

"What we saw was an unacceptable gesture," Sanchez told a news conference when asked about the controversy over the unsolicited kiss.

"I also think the apologies given by Mr. Rubiales are insufficient. And I even think that they are inappropriate and that he must go further," the premier added.

Manu Fernandez/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks next to Spain's Women's World Cup soccer team after their World Cup victory, at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday.Manu Fernandez/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

The Spanish government and the World Players’ Union first condemned the behaviour of Luis Rubiales on Monday. The soccer federation then tried to downplay the incident through a statement and later released a video in which Rubiales apologised.

“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.”

Immediately after Spain's victory, Rubiales also grabbed his crotch in a victory gesture - seemingly oblivious to 16-year-old Princess Infanta Sofía standing nearby.

Alessandra Tarantino/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Queen Letizia, Spain's Princess Infanta Sofia President of Spain's soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, hug Spain's players.Alessandra Tarantino/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

The kiss shocked the world 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 also 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.”

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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 normalise,” Irene Montero wrote Sunday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

In the video the federation released on Monday Rubiales apologised and acknowledged 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 to the camera.

Rubiales 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.

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Mark Baker/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
President of Spain's soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, right, embrace's Spain's Princess Infanta Sofia as Queen Letizia and FIFA President Gianni Infantino wait on the podium.Mark Baker/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

In an Instagram video in the dressing room after the incident on Sunday, 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.”

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Rick Rycroft/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
President of Spain's soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, right, embrace's Spain's Princess Infanta Sofia as Queen Letizia and FIFA President Gianni Infantino wait on the podium.Rick Rycroft/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Rubiales also is a UEFA vice president and was the European soccer body's most senior elected representative at the final in Australia.

The former footballer 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.

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