Who is Luis Rubiales? Career, controversies of RFEF chief who refused to resign over Spain Jenni Hermoso kiss

Royal Spanish Football Association (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales sensationally refused to resign despite mounting pressure on account of his behaviour in the aftermath of Spain’s victory over England in the 2023 Women’s World Cup final.

Jorge Vilda’s side triumphed 1-0 thanks to Olga Carmona’s first-half strike, with Mary Earps’ penalty save from Jenni Hermoso after the break not proving costly.

During the medal presentation ceremony, after embracing several players and members of backroom staff, Rubiales grabbed Hermoso by the head and planted a kiss on her lips — an act that the Atletico Madrid forward said afterwards that she “didn’t like”.

Spain’s minister of equality Irene Montero condemned Rubiales’ act as a “form of sexual violence”, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez describing it as “unacceptable”. La Liga F and global players union FIFPro are among the prominent football organisations to have called for the 46-year-old to step down or be removed from his post. Atletico Madrid are one of four La Liga clubs to have made the same call.

Rubiales was also seen grabbing his crotch in celebration shortly after the final whistle and the widespread and ongoing condemnation of his antics led the RFEF to schedule an emergency meeting on Friday. FIFA then opened proceedings against the embattled administrator for potential violations of its disciplinary code.

MORE: Women’s FIFA World rankings: Latest list after Spain top England in World Cup final

Despite widespread reports that he would stand down, Rubiales took to the stage on Friday, August 25, and launched a scarcely believable show of defiance. He repeatedly insisted he would not resign and decried “fake feminism, that is a scourge in this country”.

Those comments were applauded by Vilda and Spain men’s coach Luis de la Fuente among others in the auditorium before an astonishing tirade continued. Rubiales alleged a “witchhunt” from politicians and the media and said of Hermoso: “It was her who lifted me up and brought me closer into her body. I asked her ‘a little bit’ and she responded ‘that is okay’.”

Rubiales’ address was all the more remarkable given media attending the meeting had been briefed that he would resign and be replaced by Pedro Rocha. It represents a reckless U-turn that is set to have wide-reaching ramifications. It will be career-defining, but it is not his first brush with controversy.

Spain Women refuse to play

Following Rubiales’ decision not to resign, the Spanish women’s football team announced in a joint statement they will not play any matches until the federation leadership is changed.

All 23 players from the World Cup squad signed the statement, along with 56 other female football players.

Hermoso also took to social media to hit back at Rubiales’ claims about her consenting to the kiss and rubbishing the conversation he alleged took place.

“I want to clarify that, as was seen in the images, at no time did I consent to the kiss he gave me,” Hermoso said. “I do not tolerate my word being questioned and much less the invention of words I have not said.”

Spain’s next match is due set for September 22 against Sweden in the Nations League.

Was Luis Rubiales a football player?

Rubiales spent the bulk of his playing career with clubs in Spain’s Segunda Division, twice winning promotion with Levante in 2004 and 2006 despite the club being in financial turmoil.

The defender closed out his playing days with a brief stint at Scottish club Hamilton Academical, announcing an abrupt retirement after a 4-1 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox in August 2009.

Rubiales was aged just 32 and had a contract for the whole season but part of his motivation to return to Spain were calls for him to mount a bid to take charge of the country’s players union, the AFE, amid growing money problems for clubs outside the elite.

He was elected AFE president in March 2010, beginning a career in sports administration that ultimately led him to succeed the long-serving Angel Maria Villar at the helm of the RFEF in May 2018.

Rubiales’ time with the AFE did not attract too much attention outside Spain until the past week when, amid the fallout from the Hermoso incident, Tamara Ramos — now director of the Futbolistas ON players union — accused him of misogynistic behaviour when they worked together, including asking what colour her underwear was.

Ramos’ allegations were strongly refuted in an RFEF statement — just one part of the firefighting effort around an increasingly engulfed Rubiales.

Luis Rubiales controversies: Lopetegui, Tebas and Pique

Weeks after taking charge at the RFEF, Rubiales was plunged into a footballing crisis.

On the eve of the 2018 World Cup, Spain head coach Julen Lopetegui agreed to take charge of Real Madrid from the start of the 2018/19 season.

Rubiales was only informed five minutes before Madrid’s announcement and, following a meeting with the coach the next day, Lopetegui was sacked. “I tried to act with honesty, according to our ethics,” Lopetegui later told the Guardian. Under caretaker boss Fernando Hierro, Spain were knockout out on penalties in the Round of 16 by hosts Russia.

The sense that the new RFEF chief would not be pushed around by the big powers in La Liga was confirmed as his next public fight soon arrived with Spain’s top-flight supremo Javier Tebas.

Rubiales heavily criticised Tebas’ unilateral decision to enter into an agreement with the Relevent Sports agency that committed La Liga to explore the possibility of staging a match in the United States.

JavierTebas - cropped

Indignation directed towards Tebas from Rubiales perhaps might have carried more weight had the RFEF not taken that year’s Supercopa de Espana to Morocco and since staged it as an expanded four-team tournament in Saudi Arabia.

Predictably, Rubiales also name-checked Tebas in his tour de force of non-resignation hubris, and the latter responded with a diatribe on social media. It is a relationship beyond repair.

The Supercopa link-up with Saudi further damaged the relationship between the two men and his reputation as a whole before his World Cup final actions appeared certain to bring him down.

Rubiales was forced to deny a conflict of interests existed between the RFEF and former Barcelona defender Gerard Pique over the hosting agreement for the Supercopa to remain in Saudi Arabia from 2019 to 2029.

Hacked audio recordings of conversations between Pique and Rubiales revealed the former Spain star’s company Kosmos received a €24 million commission for acting as an intermediary between the RFEF and Saudi state-owned sports marketing group Sela in the Supercopa negotiations.

In Rubiales’ response to the allegations, stating Kosmos was paid by Sela and not the federation, he offered an indication of the dramatically strident display with regards to the Hermoso affair.

“I trust the police and I hope they can catch the mafia that have done this,” he said. “I am upset that they [media] are prioritising the false news that I’m hearing rather than the robbery of private information taken from my phone. 

“I’ve been at the helm of the RFEF for four years. I haven’t stopped being attacked since I decided to run for president. There is a campaign to discredit me. If they can do this, I cannot guarantee that one day they will [not] put a bag of cocaine in the boot of my car. I don’t deserve this, neither does my family.”

MORE: Spain women’s World Cup 2023 squad and why some players staged a boycott

What did Luis Rubiales say about Jenni Hermoso?

It would be generous to describe the RFEF’s immediate post-World Cup final attempts at damage control as haphazard.

In a statement, the federation quoted Hermoso as saying: “It was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the immense joy that winning a World Cup brings.” It was subsequently indicated that these words did not come from Hermoso, who issued her own statement via the FUTPRO union.

“My union, FUTPRO, in coordination with my agency, TMJ, are taking care of defending my interests and being the interlocutors on this matter,” it read.

FUTPRO added that it would work to “sanction and adopt measures to protect the players against actions we believe are unacceptable” and described Rubiales’ behaviour as “acts that should never go unpunished”.

Rubiales told Spanish broadcaster COPE that the controversy had been whipped up regarding “a kiss between two friends celebrating something” and insisted anyone insinuating anything more significant were “idiots and stupid people”.

Jennifer Hermoso Spain España

(Getty Images)

In a subsequent statement, he said: “I made a mistake, for sure. I have to accept it. In a moment of such emotion, without any bad intention or bad faith, what happened, happened, in a very spontaneous way. [There was] no bad faith from either side.”

If that placed a mask wonkily in place, it has now slipped off and shattered into hundreds of pieces on the floor.

“I’m not going to resign, I’m not going to resign, I’m NOT going to resign, I’m NOT going to resign, I’m not going to resign,” he repeated to applause, bizarrely recalling Leonardo Di Caprio’s famous scene from the Wolf of Wall Street.

“And I’ll tell you more: I’ve received a lot of pressure as well, not just you. A lot of comments have come to me. They’ve told me that the best thing would be to resign because if not, probably on Monday it would occur to someone to kick me out of the forum, find the formula.

“But we’re in a country where the law rules, where there has to be a motive to take you out of some place. And I say: what is it I’ve done? A consensual peck is enough to get me out of here?”

Rubiales claimed he would take legal action against members of the government, who are unlikely to dally over their next move given this extraordinary turn of events. The Spanish High Council for Sports (CSD) has received complaints about the RFEF president this week.

He also pledged his long-term support from the stage to Vilda, in the form of a bumper new four-year contract worth €500,000 annually. Vilda is a controversial and problematic figure for many after 15 members of the Spain women’s team went on strike last year amid complaints over his tactics, training sessions and behaviour.

Rubiales then referred to Hermoso’s “silence” and “a statement that I don’t quite understand” before stating he was the victim of “a social assassination”.

David de Gea posted on X “My ears are bleeding” while his former rival for Spain’s goalkeeping spot Iker Casillas decried a “total embarrassment” on social media. Hermoso’s teammate Alexia Putellas, the double Ballon d’Or winner, pledged her support to Hermoso on social media and added: “This is unacceptable. It’s over.”

Tebas was predictably swift to respond with his own statement. “Although the crude victimisation trick has worked too many times, this time to continue trying it is simply ridiculous,” it read.

“It is simply impossible to attribute his misogynistic and despicable behaviour to any absurd conspiracy when the reputational damage for all of Spanish football is inevitable.”

Despite a show of bravado that frequently ventured into the absurd, the reality remains that Rubiales appears to be approaching the end having needlessly done more damage to his own tattered reputation and Spanish football as a whole.

“What we have seen today in the federation assembly is unacceptable,” said Spain’s deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz in a social media statement.

“The government must act and take urgent measures: impunity for macho actions is over. Rubiales cannot continue in office.”

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