Spanish soccer official’s kiss unleashes fury

Spain’s victory at the Women’s World Cup was soon sullied by the leader of the country’s soccer federation when he planted an unwanted kiss on the lips of a star player during the medal ceremony. 

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Sports

August 29, 2023 - 3:23 PM

In this file photo, Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales attends a reception to the Spanish women’s national football team at Moncloa Palace after they won the Australia and New Zealand FIFA Women's World Cup 2023, on Aug. 22, 2023, in Madrid, Spain. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images/TNS)

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s Aug. 20 victory at the Women’s World Cup was a momentous occasion for the soccer-crazed country, but the joy on and off the field was soon sullied by the leader of the country’s soccer federation when he planted an unwanted kiss on the lips of a star player during the medal ceremony.

By defiantly refusing to step down as fury over the incident mounted, Luis Rubiales only exacerbated the controversy, prompting the world champions to say they will not play again until he’s gone and prosecutors to launch an investigation.

The incident is fueling nationwide soul-searching about sexism in sports, and in society at large.

The Spanish soccer scandal has even drawn in Rubiales’s mother, who defended him by launching a hunger strike.

Here is a summary of the twists and turns of the controversy:

IT STARTED WITH A KISS

As the jubilant Spanish team lined up to collect their winning medals and salute dignitaries after beating England 1-0 in Sydney, Australia, Rubiales, 46, grabbed player Jenni Hermoso, 33, by the head with both hands, and kissed her on her lips.

Spain’s players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women’s World Cup final football match between Spain and England in Sydney on Aug. 20, 2023. (Saeed KhanAFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Moments earlier, Rubiales had grabbed his crotch in a victory gesture to those down on the field as he celebrated wildly in the presidential box not far from Spain’s Queen Letizia and her teenage daughter, Princess Sofia.

Taken together, Rubiales’s actions — replayed repeatedly on TV and social media — have shone a light on the way machismo permeates soccer in Spain, and throughout the world.

Soccer has for years battled allegations of discrimination against women, and sexual misconduct by male coaches and other officials against national teams’ female players.

IMMEDIATE REACTIONS

Before even leaving the field in Australia, Rubiales lashed out when asked about the immediate criticism of him that came raining down on social media. He claimed the kiss was made with affection and in celebration — and insulted his detractors in crude terms.

In an Instagram video in the dressing room after the incident, the players screamed and laughed while watching the kiss on a phone. Hermoso laughed and shouted, “But I didn’t like it!” and said she couldn’t do much about it.

The Spanish soccer federation later that day released a statement attributed to Hermoso, saying “It was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture due to the immense joy of winning a World Cup” and that she and Rubiales “have a great relationship.”

But Hermoso accused the federation later in the week of trying to pressure her and her family into supporting Rubiales.

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