MADRID: The crisis within Spanish football deepened Friday as the women’s World Cup winners demanded more heads roll at its scandal-hit RFEF federation whose disgraced ex-boss appeared in court on sexual assault charges. Just hours after Luis Rubiales was quizzed by a judge for kissing midfielder Jenni Hermoso, all but two of Spain’s 23 World Cup players said they would not don the national shirt without deeper changes within the RFEF, demanding its current interim head also resign.
The statement came as the squad’s new coach Montse Tome was to announce the lineup for two upcoming UEFA Women’s Nations League matches against Sweden and Switzerland, which was promptly postponed, federation sources said. “The changes put in place are not enough,” said a statement signed by 39 players, among them 21 of the 23 World Cup winners. Demanding “fundamental changes to the RFEF’s leadership”, they called for the “resignation of the RFEF president” Pedro Rocha, who took over as interim leader when FIFA suspended Rubiales on August 26.
But the federation insisted Rocha would “lead the transition process within the RFEF until the next election”, insisting any changes would be made “gradually”. A federation source said a leadership election could take place early next year. “This institution is more important than individuals and it’s crucial it remains strong. We’ll work tirelessly to create stability first in order to progress later,” Rocha said in the statement. Despite a string of recent changes, the federation remains in the hands of officials appointed by Rubiales, and the players are demanding structural changes “within the office of the president and the secretary general”.
Brought to court by a kiss
The bombshell came after days of optimism within the RFEF that the players would come round after it sacked controversial coach Jorge Vilda, appointed Tome in his stead and pledged further changes, not to mention Rubiales’ long-awaited resignation on Sunday. On August 25, 81 Spain players, including the 23 world champions, had started a mass strike saying they would not play for the national team without significant changes at the head of the federation.
Earlier on Friday, Rubiales appeared in court where he was quizzed by Judge Francisco de Jorge who is heading up the investigation into the kiss, which sparked international outrage and saw him brought up on sexual assault charges. At the end of the closed-door hearing, in which Rubiales repeated his claim that the kiss was consensual, the judge ordered him not to come within 200 meters of Hermoso and barred him from any contact with the player.
At the weekend, the 46-year-old had described the kiss as “a spontaneous act, a mutual act, an act that both consented to, which was… 100 percent non-sexual” in an interview with British broadcaster Piers Morgan. Hermoso, 33, has insisted it was not, describing it as “an impulsive, macho act, out of place and with no type of consent on my part”. Speaking to reporters outside court, Hermoso’s lawyer Carla Vall said they were “very satisfied” with the hearing. “Thanks to this video, everyone can see there was no consent whatsoever and that is what we will demonstrate in court.”
Allegations of coercion
Hermoso herself will also testify before the judge at some stage, who will then have to decide whether or not to push ahead with the prosecution. No date has been given for her testimony. The complaint against Rubiales, which was filed by the public prosecutors’ office, cites alleged offences of sexual assault and coercion.
Under a recent reform of the Spanish penal code, a non-consensual kiss can be considered sexual assault, a category which groups all types of sexual violence. If found guilty, Rubiales could face anything from a fine to four years in prison, sources at the public prosecutors’ office have said. In their complaint, prosecutors explained the offence of coercion related to Hermoso’s statement saying she “and those close to her had suffered constant ongoing pressure by Luis Rubiales and his professional entourage to justify and condone” his actions. At the hearing, Rubiales also denied coercion.- AFP