December 02, 2023

Spain's women football players say their boycott remains, deepening crisis after kiss scandal


(Reuters) - Spain's women's players reiterated on Monday that they would continue to boycott the national team, signaling a deepening of the crisis that started after the country's then-football federation boss Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the FIFA Women's World Cup presentation ceremony.

After most of the FIFA Women's World Cup winners were selected for upcoming games, the players said in a joint statement that they would take the "best decision" for their future and health after they would study the legal implications of being included in a squad list they had asked to be left out.

They argued the federation cannot require their presence because they alleged the call-up was not issued within the world's soccer governing body FIFA parameters in terms of timings and procedure.

The revolt by the players was triggered after Rubiales kissed Hermoso on the lips following Spain's FIFA Women's World Cup victory last month. She disputed his insistence that the kiss was consensual, sparking a national debate about macho culture in sport and eventually led to Rubiales' resignation.

Hermoso was not on the squad list announced by new coach Montse Tome on Monday, which included 15 of the 23 cup-winning squad plus two players, Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro, who were not called up for the finals after signing an open letter against then-coach Jorge Vilda.

"We regret once more that our federation puts us in a situation we had never desired," said the statement which was issued on the name of Spain's top women's team players but did not include signatures and was not shared by all of them on social media.

Among the ones that shared it were some of the team's most prominent players such as Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmati.

A source close to three players said they had been surprised by the call-up.

Should they refuse the call-up, the players could face sanctions including fines of up 30,000 euros ($32,000) and the suspension of their federation license for two to 15 years according to Spain's Sports Act.

Apply law

"If the players do not show up, the government must apply the law. I'm sorry to say so, but we must do what we have to do," the head of Spain's government national sports agency, Victor Francos, told SER radio station.

Earlier in the day, Tome, who was Vilda's assistant for five years, told a press conference that none of the players had asked not to be selected, adding that she had spoken to them but declining to reveal what was discussed.

When asked if she was confident all those on the list would answer the call to play, she said: "I have every confidence in the players. I trust that the players are professionals.

"They come from being world champions, they love the profession and I know they will be here with us tomorrow."

"It's the start of a new phase, the clock is ticking," she added.

Further changes

On Friday, a group of 39 players, including 21 out of the 23 in the cup-winning squad, said they want further changes at the football federation as Rubiales' resignation and the replacement of Vilda were not enough for them to return.

On Monday night, they said their Friday statement "clearly shows and without room for any other interpretation our firm will of not being called-up over justified reasons."

They added such position remains intact three days later and that they had not expressed any different view to Royal Spanish Football Federation officials since then.

Twenty out of the 39 were in the squad for matches against Sweden on Friday and Switzerland next Tuesday in Spain's debut in the UEFA Nations League, a competition that will determine which European teams qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

An original group of 81 players had called the boycott in the wake of the furor over Rubiales' kiss.

Tome suggested Hermoso was left out of the squad because of the intense media attention she had received in the past month.

"We stand with Jenni. We believe that the best way to protect her is like this, but we are counting on Jenni," Tome said.

Earlier on Monday, the RFEF said in a statement it was convinced of the need for "structural changes" and had to clarify who was responsible for the behavior the players had brought to light.