Union representing World Cup champion kissed by Spanish soccer head demands act not 'go unpunished'

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The players' union representing the Women’s World Cup winner kissed without her consent by the president of the Spanish soccer federation said Wednesday that his inappropriate act should not go unpunished.

Jenni Hermoso, who was kissed forcibly by federation head Luis Rubiales during Sunday’s awards ceremony, said in a statement that the FUTPRO players' union and her agent would “defend my interests and speak on my behalf.”

The union continued the statement by adding: “We are working so that the acts like the ones we witnessed don’t go unpunished, are sanctioned, and that pertinent measures are adopted to protect the soccer players against actions that are unacceptable.”

Hermoso, a 33-year-old forward and key player for Spain, had said on a video streamed on social media during a changing room celebration following the 1-0 win over England in Sunday's final that she “did not like it, but what could I do” about the kiss.

In the immediate uproar over the kiss, the federation released a statement in the name of Hermoso in which she downplayed the incident. Later, a local media report by sports website Relevo.com said that the federation had coerced her to making the statement. The federation has denied this to The AP.

Relevo.com also reported that Rubiales asked for Hermoso to appear on the video in which he apologized for kissing her, only for her to refuse. It said captain Ivana Andrés also was asked to participate but likewise refused. Relevo said people traveling with the Spanish delegation back to Madrid also saw coach Jorge Vilda try to convince Hermoso’s family for her to appear in the video.

For the head of Spain’s top sports authority, Hermoso should not be made the focus of the incident.

“(Hermoso) can decide to speak out or not, and whatever she does she will be doing the right thing, because above all we cannot put the responsibility for this on her,” said Víctor Francos, Spain's secretary of state for sports and president of Spain’s Higher Council for Sports.

Francos says that Rubiales' conduct has damaged the country’s image — just as it tries to win a joint bid to host the 2030 men’s World Cup.

“Spanish sports did not offer a good image as far as its leaders were concerned,” Francos told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Madrid.

Pressure is growing for federation president Rubiales to step down or for the government to seek his removal via Francos' office and the courts.

Rubiales has also become a national embarrassment for having grabbed his crotch in a victory gesture following the final in Sydney, Australia.

“The gesture of grabbing his testicles in the tribune is a gesture that no one can defend,” Francos said. “Things have happened that should not have happened. As president of the Higher Council for Sports, I can’t deny that this generates a bad image.”

The forced kiss came while Rubiales was among the dignitaries greeting the finalists, right down the line from FIFA head Gianni Infantino.

Spain, along with Portugal and Morocco, is trying to secure a bid to host FIFA’s 2030 World Cup. Ukraine could also join in.

“Everyone knows that the attitude (Rubiales) had that day is unacceptable,” said Francos. "We will have to see if he is the right public face” to lead this bid for Spain.

After an unconvincing apology offered by Rubiales on Monday, Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez urged him to “continue taking steps” toward being held accountable.

Increasingly cornered, Rubiales called an emergency meeting of the Spanish soccer federation’s general assembly on Friday. It is expected to support him.

The federation has launched an internal investigation into whether Rubiales breached the federation’s protocol against sexism. That protocol establishes “forced kissing” as a punishable act.

Francos said he has asked the federation to deliver the results of its investigation by Monday. His council is studying three formal complaints filed against Rubiales’ behavior to see if it constituted an infraction of Spain’s sports law, which sanctions sexist acts.

The Higher Council for Sports has the power to refer possible infractions to Spain’s administrative court for sports. Rubiales could face being declared unfit to hold his office by the court.

Francos said that the process must run its course.

“Sports federations are private entities, they operate with absolute autonomy,” Francos said. “In a case like this, we can’t remove the president of the football federation even if we wanted to.”

FIFA was urged Wednesday by the global players’ union FIFPRO to refer Rubiales for investigation by world soccer’s ethics committee. The FIFA code of ethics states that officials like Rubiales “shall appreciate the impact their conduct may have on FIFA’s reputation, and shall therefore behave in a dignified and ethical manner and act with complete credibility and integrity at all times.”

Also Wednesday, the coach of Spain’s champions was facing scrutiny after footage emerged showing him touching the chest area of a female assistant while celebrating the only goal of the final.

In a video of Spain’s coaching staff celebrating the goal, Vilda turns to hug three of his assistants — a woman and two men. As he turns to look back at the field, his hand makes contact with the chest of the woman, who was wearing a coat. His other hand was touching a male assistant.

The federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the The AP.

Vilda led Spain to victory less than a year after 15 players said they were renouncing the team unless major changes were made by its coach to improve the team’s performance and its results. No accusations of improper conduct have been known to be made against Vilda. Three players returned to the team for the Women's World Cup.


Tales Azzoni contributed from Madrid.


AP Women's World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup