Spain’s football federation has said it will take legal action to defend its president Luis Rubiales against “lies” after calls for him to resign over his behaviour reached fever pitch.
The move on Saturday comes a day after Spain’s women’s national team announced that they would not play any more games unless the president of the country’s football federation stepped down for kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips after their victory in the final of the Women’s World Cup.
Rubiales, who was also criticised for grabbing his crotch after Spain’s 1-0 victory over England on Sunday, has resisted growing pressure from athletes, politicians and protesters to resign.
In a statement, the federation said it would show there have been “lies” about what happened by Hermoso or people speaking for her. The statement on the Royal Spanish Football Federation website said it would take legal action to defend Rubiales’ honour, but did not say what the action would consist of.
“Where there is rule of law … opinions are counteracted with facts and evidence, and lies are rebutted in court.”
“The RFEF [Royal Spanish Football Federation] and the President will show each of the lies that are spread either by someone on behalf of the player or, if applicable, by the player herself,” it said.
The statement was accompanied by four photos of the event last Sunday that it said illustrated Rubiales’ contention that Hermoso lifted him by the hips.
On Friday, the Spanish players released a statement, inked by 56 team members, including all 23 from the World Cup winning squad, saying they would not return to the national team “if the present leadership remains in charge”.
‘I won’t resign’: Rubiales
Hermoso issued a statement on Friday strongly rebuking Rubiales’ characterisation of the kiss – which marred the celebrations – as consensual, while the 46-year-old federation president cast himself as the victim at an emergency meeting of the federation in Madrid.
“I won’t resign,” he declared four times in quick succession, to applause from an overwhelmingly male audience.
Rubiales also told the assembly, that Hermoso “lifted me up” in a celebratory gesture, and he asked her for “a little kiss?” and she “said yes”.
“The kiss was the same I could give one of my daughters,” Rubiales said.
Among those applauding Rubiales were women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente.
Until Friday’s assembly, he had received no public support in Spain, with political parties from both the left and the right speaking out against him.
Several Spanish news media outlets reported on Thursday that Rubiales would step down. Instead, he said on Friday that he is the victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists”.
Kiss left Hermoso in ‘a state of shock’
The televised broadcast of the medals ceremony did not show the first moments when Rubiales congratulated Hermoso. But it does show that his feet were on the ground before he held her face and kissed her.
Hermoso contradicted Rubiales’ version in two statements, one issued through her FUTRPO players’ union and another published on social media.
She said that she did not consent to the kiss or try to pick up the president and that there was no conversation like the one described by Rubiales.
“I won’t tolerate anyone doubting my word and even less someone putting words in my mouth,” she said.
In a second statement, Hermoso said the kiss “left me in a state of shock”.
“I believe that no person in any workplace should be the victim of this type of nonconsensual behaviour,” she added.
Hermoso also accused the federation of pressuring her and her family to speak out in Rubiales’ defence.
The federation previously denied a report that it forced her to make a statement downplaying the kiss shortly after it happened.
Gemma Soler, a journalist based in Barcelona, told Al Jazeera that while the incident had sparked outrage, it could become a “turning point” for women’s football in Spain.
“It is overshadowing what these women have achieved with so many difficulties they have faced in the past. They are World Cup winners, they should be celebrating and not putting up a fight right now,” she said, adding that either the federation has to change or a new one for women will have to be created.
“[Female footballers] have been forgotten for so long, [the federation] did not pay attention to them unless they thought they could make money or achieve success. Hopefully, [Rubiales] will be disqualified as soon as possible, on Monday. This is not over because he will try to win the elections again in 2024. This is a long story and a war for power.”