FIFA provisionally suspended Luis Rubiales, the head of Spain’s football association, following a week of controversy over his behavior at the Women’s World Cup final.
The suspension from all football-related activities is effective immediately and will initially last for 90 days while FIFA’s disciplinary committee conducts an investigation of Rubiales, according to a statement Saturday from football’s governing body. FIFA had announced the review on Thursday amid outrage over Rubiales celebrating Spain’s victory by kissing star player Jennifer Hermoso on the lips and making an obscene gesture of grabbing his crotch after a Spanish goal.
The decision comes a day after Spain’s champion women’s team said it would refuse to play another game while Rubiales remained in the post. In a dramatic appearance Friday, Rubiales said five times that he wouldn’t resign, and the Spanish football association backed him in a Friday statement and threatened legal action, implying that Hermoso had lied about what happened.
Rubiales also argued Friday that he’s the victim of a public lynching and had done nothing wrong because the kiss was consensual. Hermoso responded with her own statement disputing the claims and said she was a victim of “an impulse-driven sexist.”
The Spanish government had also initiated proceedings to suspend the 46-year old official. FIFA, which all national associations ultimately report to, is averse to having governments intervene in national football activity.
Rubiales has sought to tap into Spain’s culture wars to build his defense, blaming “fake feminism” for the uproar since the Aug. 20 incidents, which were broadcast live around the world. He said he would take Equality Minister Irene Montero and Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz to court for their criticism of him. All of the country’s largest political parties have so far shunned Rubiales and demanded he leave.
The controversy comes during a period of political deadlock in Spain following an inconclusive national election on July 28. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has retained the job in a caretaker capacity as both he and conservative opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo seek ways to find enough support to win an investiture vote.
Sanchez has repeatedly sought to portray his government as being on the side of women since he first came to power in 2018, but some of his gender and equality laws have been deeply divisive and opposition to them has been used as rallying calls by opposition parties. Most notable was a law sponsored by Montero known as the “only yes means yes” law that sought to create tighter sentences for sex crimes, but had the unintended consequence of leading to the release of criminals who had their sentences revised under the new definitions.
Several of Spain’s largest professional clubs issued statements Friday criticizing Rubiales, including Real Madrid, Europe’s most successful team, which said it fully supports the government’s decision to seek his suspension. Club Atletico Osasuna called his behavior “coarse, rude and chauvinist” while Athletic Club de Bilbao announced that its chairman will step down from the board of the FA.
Although professional clubs only have a small representation within the FA, their stance carries weight. In Spain, like in other countries, the FA is the sport’s governing body, oversees the national team and works with regional federations, but the two top leagues are controlled by a separate, club-owned entity called La Liga.
In an interview with newspaper El Pais Saturday, Spanish Culture and Sports Minister Miquel Iceta said that as far as the government is concerned, this is the end for Rubiales.
“It can’t go on. It cannot be that after an unacceptable event there isn’t any sort of reaction from the president or the assembly of the football federation,” Iceta said in the interview, though he did add that the final decision to remove Rubiales depends on legal authorities and the government has limited space to act.
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