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Luis Rubiales case: What are the consequences?

Andreas Sten-Ziemons | James Thorogood
August 28, 2023

Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales has been asked to resign following his kissing scandal at the World Cup. As his actions threaten to have a damaging effect on Spanish football, DW asks: What happens next?

Luis Rubiales speaks at a red lectern, gesturing with his hand
Prosecutors in Spain have launched a sexual assault investigation into Luis RubialesImage: Real Federación Española de Fútbol/Europa Press/AP Photo/picture alliance

For over a week now, Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Association (RFEF), has been the most talked about man in the world of sports. 

The discussion revolves around an incident involving Spain forward Jenni Hermoso after the nation's World Cup triumph in Australia. When Hermoso stepped up to the podium to receive a winner's medal and congratulations from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Spain's Queen Letizia and Rubiales, the RFEF chief kissed her on the cheek before grabbing her head and kissing her on the lips.

Hermoso, 33, has since said that the kiss was not consensual, prompting criticism of Rubiales from politicians, clubs and former and current male and female players. Many view it as another abuse of power in a patriarchal organization.

With many questions surrounding this ever-changing story, DW breaks down what you need to know.

What is the current status of the Luis Rubiales case?

Rubiales, 46, has vehemently refused to resign amid calls for him to step down as RFEF president. However, FIFA's Disciplinary Committee has since provisionally suspended the RFEF chief to preserve "the fundamental rights" of Hermoso.

Outrage over Spanish football boss' refusal to quit

Rubiales has been banned from all national and international football-related activities. The suspension is initially for 90 days, pending disciplinary proceedings initiated by FIFA last Thursday. World football's governing body ordered Rubiales not to contact Hermoso or her immediate entourage, either personally or through a third party. The same applies to the Spanish federation RFEF and its officials and employees.

On Monday, prosecutors in Spain said they had launched a sexual assault investigation into Rubiales. According to a statement received by the AFP news agency from the Spanish national court, "prosecutors from the national court have opened a preliminary investigation to look into the facts, which could constitute an offense of sexual assault." The statement indicated the court would offer Hermoso a chance to file a lawsuit.

Later that evening, the regional presidents of the RFEF released a joint statement publicly demanding Rubiales step down.

Reaction to Rubiales' refusal to step down

Spain's government promptly reacted to Rubiales' vehement refusal to step down. 

"Logically, we will do everything in our power to ensure that this gentleman, who can hardly be called a worthy representative of Spanish football, is no longer at the forefront of Spanish football," Teresa Ribera, Spain's caretaker deputy head of government, told the Europa Press news agency. 

Spanish football legends such as Andres Iniesta and Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso have also expressed their horror.

"It's obvious that he has to go. He was never accepted. He has not behaved correctly and cannot stay in this position," Alonso said on Sky Germany.

Hermoso, the victim in all this, reiterated in a statement once again that the kiss was not consensual. She announced that she would no longer play for Spain's national team as long as the current leadership remained in place. 

Over 81 players have now joined this boycott in solidarity, including all 23 World Cup winners, leaving Spain without a women's national team. Furthermore, 11 staff members resigned, including assistants of controversial national team coach Jorge Vilda.

On the other side of the scandal, Rubiales' family publicly has demanded that Hermoso "tell the truth." According to the Spanish press, his mother, Angeles Bejar, has gone on an "indefinite" hunger strike to protest the ongoing "inhumane and bloody manhunt." 

Bejar has locked herself in the church in her hometown of Motril, Spain and has said she does not want to eat until her son sees justice. An aunt is also said to have joined the hunger strike.

What happens next?

Spain's RFEF has called an "extraordinary and urgent" meeting to discuss the consequences of FIFA's decision to suspend Rubiales. His refusal to step down has caused national and international outrage, but on Monday the regional presidents of the RFEF held a second emergency meeting before releasing a statement asking for Rubiales to step down. 

"After recent events and the unacceptable behavior that has seriously damaged the image of Spanish football, the presidents request that Luis Rubiales resign immediately as president of the RFEF," the football federation said in a statement. Now the world is waiting to see how Rubiales will respond.


Pachuca players hold up banner in support of Jenni Hermoso
'We stand with you, Jenni': Hermoso has received global support, here from women's teams in MexicoImage: Christian Chavez/AP/picture alliance

In conjunction with the RFEF meeting, Yolanda Diaz, Spain's second vice president, also plans to meet with the president of FUTPRO, a players' union exclusively for women footballers, and representatives of the Spanish players' organization AFE.

What consequences could the case have for Spanish football?

If Rubiales remains in office, it would be difficult for FIFA to award the 2030 Men's World Cup to Spain, who are involved in a joint bid to host the tournament with Portugal and Morocco. The three countries' cross-continental bid is considered the most promising of all contenders.

The impact was almost felt at the club level based on threats made by RFEF General Secretary Andreu Camps, who denounced the Spanish government's intervention to the European football governing body UEFA. He said the demands for Rubiales' resignation and announcements to ensure his ouster were political interference in sporting matters.

According to UEFA regulations, such an act would result in the federation being banned from all competitions. Prominent clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona would not be allowed to compete in the Champions League or other UEFA competitions. Camps' aim was to pressure the government to withdraw its demands for resignation, but UEFA first denied the RFEF's request, before it was then later withdrawn.

Where does Spain head coach Jorge Vilda stand?

Jorge Vilda, Spain's controversial national women's team head coach, has also distanced himself from Rubiales — but only belatedly. Vilda had always been supported by Rubiales, even when 15 players resigned from the national team last year as they sought to have Vilda step down.

Last Friday, during Rubiales' blazing speech, which denounced criticism of him as, among other things, "false feminism," Vilda was still sitting in the audience applauding Rubiales when he repeatedly shouted, "I will not resign!" A day later, Vilda apparently changed his view — in a statement Saturday night, the world champion coach condemned Rubiales' behavior.

"I deeply regret that the success of Spanish women's football has been affected by the inappropriate behavior of our president Luis Rubiales, which he himself has admitted," read Vilda's statement, published in Spanish media. 

Despite most of his backroom staff resigning in protest, Vilda remains in his post. But on Tuesday, the RFEF said it was exploring options as to whether it can sack its women's World Cup-winning head coach.

This article was originally written in German and most recently updated on August 29, 2023. 

Correction, August 29: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Spain's Queen Letizia. DW apologizes for the error.