A kiss on the lips caused an uproar after Spain won the women's World Cup title.
Criticism from the Spanish government and the football world rained down on national football association president Luis Rubiales on Monday for his inappropriate behavior while celebrating Spain's 1-0 win over England in Sunday's final in Sydney, Australia.
Rubiales kissed Spanish player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the medal and trophy ceremony on the pitch. He also hugged several other players and put his arm around Queen Letizia of Spain.
The federation released a video statement on Monday in which Rubiales apologized and admitted he “certainly made a mistake” albeit in “a moment of maximum exuberance”.
Jenni Hermoso said “she didn't enjoy” being kissed by Spanish football president Luis Rubiales, who has now apologized to all “people who felt hurt”.
“We saw it as something normal, natural and not malicious in any way. But outside it seems that a commotion has arisen,” Rubiales said in the video. “When you're president of an institution as important as the Federation, you have to be more careful.”
World players' union FIFPRO said on Monday the kiss was “deeply regrettable”. Rubiales, 45, ran the union's Spanish affiliate for eight years before being elected head of the national football association in 2018.
In Spain, acting Minister of Sport and Culture Miquel Iceta told public broadcaster RNE: “It is unacceptable to kiss a player on the lips to congratulate her.”
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A stronger reaction came from Spain's Equality Minister, Irene Montero.
“It's a form of sexual violence that women suffer on a daily basis that has been invisible until now and that we shouldn't normalize,” Montero wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Sunday.
The kiss was shocking considering the sport has long harbored allegations of sexual misconduct by male soccer presidents and coaches towards female national team players. Two of the 32 World Cup teams, Haiti and Zambia, faced the problem during qualifiers for the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
There was also a near-mutiny in the Spanish squad last year over another issue, with some players complaining about the culture under coach Jorge Vilda.
After the game, as Hermoso walked past the line of football dignitaries to receive their medal, Rubiales placed his hands on her head and kissed her on the lips.
“I did not like it”
In an Instagram video in the locker room after the incident, the players screamed and laughed as they watched the kiss played back on a phone.
Hermoso is seen laughing and screaming, “But I didn't like it!” When asked by other players what she was doing, she exclaimed, “Look at me, look at me,” indicating that she didn't mind much could do.
Late on Sunday, the Spanish Football Federation released a statement on behalf of Hermoso to try and settle the controversy.
“It was a completely spontaneous mutual gesture due to the great joy of having won a World Cup,” Hermoso said in the federation's statement. “The President and I have a great relationship, his behavior towards all of us was excellent and it was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.”
The Netherlands-based FIFPRO took a different view.
“It is deeply unfortunate that such a special moment for the players of the Spanish national team, which took place in front of a worldwide television audience, is marred by the inappropriate behavior of a person in such a responsible role,” FIFPRO said in a statement.
“Uninitiated and unsolicited physical gestures toward players are not appropriate or acceptable in any context. This is especially true when players are placed in a position of vulnerability because a physical approach or gesture is initiated by someone who has power over them.”
Rubiales is also UEFA vice-president and was the most senior elected representative of European football's governing body at the final in Australia.
Video clips shot after the final whistle of Sunday's game show Rubiales celebrating the victory on the front row of an exclusive area alongside the Queen of Spain and FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Leaping both arms in the air, Rubiales pointed at the pitch with both index fingers and then briefly grabbed his crotch with his right hand while seemingly not noticing 16-year-old Princess Infanta Sofía standing nearby.
The former player is playing a key role in recruiting football officials next year while also trying to secure the hosting rights for the Men's World Cup in 2030. Spain lead a joint bid with Portugal, Morocco and currently Ukraine for the 48-team tournament and are seen as favorites to decide next year.
UEFA and FIFA did not respond to requests for comment on Rubiales' conduct on Monday.