MADRID (Reuters) -Spain's soccer federation will hold an urgent meeting on Monday as its president, Luis Rubiales, faces a FIFA suspension and a storm of criticism over allegations he gave a player an unwanted kiss on the lips after Spain won the Women's World Cup.
Rubiales has refused to resign over the incident with player Jenni Hermoso last Sunday in Sydney, saying the kiss was consensual. Players and a string of coaches on the women's squad are demanding he go, and the government also wants him out.
The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has called regional federations to the "extraordinary and urgent" meeting "to evaluate the situation in which the federation finds itself" following Rubiales' suspension, a RFEF spokesperson said on Sunday.
Global soccer's governing body FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales on Thursday and announced on Saturday he had been suspended for three months from national and international soccer activities pending an investigation.
Rubiales, 46, said he would use the FIFA probe to show his innocence.
Rubiales played mainly in Spain's second division in a career spanning 12 years. When he was elected to lead the RFEF in 2018, he promised to modernise its structure, increase turnover and make the federation more transparent.
The Spanish government cannot fire Rubiales but has strongly denounced his actions and said on Friday it was seeking to get him suspended using a legal procedure before a sports tribunal.
The uproar has come in a country where gender issues have become a prominent topic. Tens of thousands of women have taken part in street marches in recent years protesting against sexual abuse and violence.
Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz is due on Monday to meet representatives of the women's players' union FUTPRO, which represents Hermoso, and the Association of Spanish Footballers to ensure football is a sector "that has decent conditions and spaces free of sexist violence".
Maria Jesus Montero, acting budget minister, said on Sunday Rubiales should not return to leading Spanish soccer.
"A person who lies, who has made a show of not having understood what the fight for equality means in an area as important as sport, cannot have the direction of football in this country in his hands," she said.
APPLAUSE FOR HERMOSO
Hermoso, who has said she did not consent to the kiss and felt "vulnerable and the victim of an aggression", has been warmly supported by fellow players and many in wider society.
She was applauded by the crowd when she was spotted on a balcony with dignitaries at the Women's Cup final between Atletico Madrid and Milan on Saturday evening. Players at the match held a banner reading: "With you Jennifer Hermoso."
Players from Orlando Pride and San Diego Wave wore wristbands supporting Hermoso during their National Women's Soccer League match in Orlando, Florida, on Friday. Players in Sweden also wore supportive messages on wrist tape on Saturday.
All 23 of Spain's cup-winning squad including Hermoso, as well as dozens of other squad members, said on Friday they would not play internationals while Rubiales remained head of the federation. Their next match is away to Sweden in the Nations League on Sept. 22.
On Saturday, 11 members of the women's team's coaching staff offered their resignations to the RFEF in a statement supporting Hermoso and condemning Rubiales. Coach Jorge Vilda said on Saturday he regretted the "inappropriate behaviour" of Rubiales.
Feminist groups have called a demonstration on Monday in Madrid entitled "With You Jenni". Hundreds of people staged a demonstration on Sunday in Salamanca against Rubiales.
UN Women Spain, the Spanish branch of a U.N. organisation that promotes women's rights, has gathered a 50 signatories including politicians, actors, business people and journalists, in a statement calling for "zero tolerance for abuse or bullying at any time or place in women's sport".
Norway's football federation chief, Lise Klaveness, a former national player who is the first woman to hold the post in her country, said "football’s journey towards inclusion, diversity, and gender equity is far from over".
"This week should have been about celebrating the exceptional performance of the Spanish team," she wrote in a statement.
"But no. Instead of revelling in the Women’s football achievements, a familiar story unfolds – the need to rally and defend players and the sport itself. A century of misogyny once again overshadows the joy of the game, the national team's pride, and remarkable performances on the pitch.”
Andres Iniesta, who won the World Cup and Euros with Spain's men's team, added his voice to the chorus of condemnation "as a father of three daughters, as a husband and as a football player", telling his 42.9 million Instagram followers that Rubiales' behaviour was "damaging the image of our country and our football around the world".
Victor Francos, head of the state-run National Sports Council, has called the incident a MeToo moment for Spain. However, he said on Saturday it would not damage Spain's bid to stage the 2030 World Cup along with Portugal and Morocco.
(Reporting by Graham Keeley;Editing by Frances Kerry and Alison Williams)