MADRID — The crisis in Spanish soccer deepened after world governing body FIFA Saturday suspended Luis Rubiales, president of Spain’s soccer federation, after he kissed Women’s World Cup winner Jenni Hermoso on the lips at last week’s final.
FIFA said it was suspending Rubiales from “all football-related activities at national and international level” for 90 days while disciplinary proceedings are under way, deepening a scandal that tainted a historic victory for the women’s team.
Rubiales says the kiss was consensual and has been refusing to stand down over the incident despite fierce criticism from Hermoso, her teammates and the Spanish government.
Hermoso said the kiss was unwanted and she and the entire World Cup-winning squad have refused to play while Rubiales remains president.
The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has been standing by the president, threatening legal action against Hermoso and others.
FIFA also banned Rubiales and the Spanish football federation from contacting Hermoso to preserve her “fundamental rights.”
Following the kiss — seen by millions of viewers around the world — Hermoso said she had been asked to “alleviate the pressure” on Rubiales.
After the news of the FIFA ruling, the RFEF named an interim president and said that Rubiales maintained his innocence.
“Rubiales has said he will defend himself before the pertinent agencies and fully confides in the work of FIFA, and reiterates that, in this way, he will have the opportunity to begin his defense so that the truth prevails and his full innocence is shown,” a statement from the federation said.
FIFA’s suspension comes after the scandal escalated further when Spain’s soccer federation threatened to take legal action against Hermoso, accusing the player of lying about being kissed by Rubiales.
“The evidence is conclusive. The President has not lied,” the federation said, alongside descriptions of photos attempting to support Rubiales’ claim.
The federation also said players had “an obligation” to participate in matches “if they are called for it,” after all 23 members of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad, including Hermoso, and nearly 50 other professional women soccer players, said they would not play again for the country until Rubiales is removed from his position.
On Friday, Rubiales gave a defiant speech, saying several times he would not stand down, speaking of “unjust” campaigns and “fake feminism.”
Responding the speech, Hermoso issued a statement in which she said “at no moment did I consent to the kiss that was given to me.”
Writing on social media, Hermoso said: “I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part.”
She also described refusing requests to issue a statement to “alleviate the pressure” on Rubiales, saying she had been “under continuous pressure to make a statement that could justify Mr. Luis Rubiales’ actions.”
The row had been building throughout the week, putting the spotlight on gender rights and sexism in a country that has seen huge marches against sexual abuse and violence.
In the immediate aftermath of the kiss Sunday, Rubiales, admitted he “made a mistake”.
Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the apology for what he described as an “unacceptable gesture” was “not enough”. The government has begun a process that would allow them to remove him from the post.
Piling pressure on Rubiales and the federation, some of the team sponsors expressed support for the players. The Spanish women are next due to play in September.
Hermoso and the team have also seen widespread support from across the soccer world, including from the England women, who Spain defeated in the final.
CNN reached out to UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, which Rubiales is a member of the executive committee, for comment but did not immediately receive a response. — CNN