The Spanish government has taken further steps toward suspending beleaguered soccer chief Luis Rubiales after submitting all necessary documentation to the country’s Court of Arbitration of Sport (TAD).
The development comes as pressure continues to mount on Rubiales ever since he gave an unwanted kiss to soccer star Jennifer Hermoso after Spain won the Women’s World Cup final on August 20.
Rubiales was suspended by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, from all football-related activities for 90 days on Saturday, though he could also be suspended by the Spanish government’s High Council of Sport (CSD).
A government statement released on Tuesday said that Rubiales displayed “unacceptable behavior” at the World Cup final and called his actions “very serious” violations of the country’s Law of Sport.
If the government’s case is accepted by TAD, an independent body, and the tribunal agrees that the infractions are “very serious” offenses, then the CSD is in a position to “temporarily and provisionally suspend” Rubiales, the government statement added.
Rubiales has admitted that he made a mistake but called the kiss consensual, while Hermoso said that she did not give her permission to be kissed and felt violated.
“I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part,” she said on social media last week. “Simply put I was not respected.”
Speaking to reporters in Madrid on Tuesday, Spanish culture and sports minister Miquel Iceta said that Spain is witnessing “social and sporting backlash” over the events that unfolded after La Roja’s Women’s World Cup final victory against England.
Iceta also said that the government welcomed plans for a “deep restructure” of the Spanish football federation (RFEF) under interim president Pedro Rocha.
On Monday, all 19 regional presidents called for Rubiales to resign while also offering unanimous support for Rocha, who stepped into the role following Rubiales’ suspension by FIFA.
What happens next?
Should TAD agree with the assessment that Rubiales’ actions were “very serious” and initiate proceedings on the Spanish government’s case file, then the CSD will be able to convene its Directors’ Commission within 48 hours to provisionally suspend Rubiales for the length of the investigation.
If TAD finds that Rubiales’ actions were of a lesser degree than “very serious,” the CSD would not be able to suspend him and the process would be drawn out further.
Last week, the president of the CSD, Víctor Francos, said that the council would look to suspend Rubiales as quickly as possible, while also acknowledging that it was a “complicated process.”
Francos said that this could be considered a “‘Me Too’ moment for Spanish football” and that the events in Sydney after the World Cup final “can never happen again.”
An RFEF spokesman confirmed to CNN on Tuesday that Rubiales has been stripped of his salary and official car. His pay from the federation was listed as $688,462.06 (€634,518.19) in 2021, according to RFEF.
Rubiales has also been requested to hand back his corporate phone and laptop, according to the spokesman, and won’t be able to use federation funds for his legal defense.
The pressure on Rubiales to resign from his position as RFEF president has only intensified since he dramatically refused to step down during a speech at the federation’s Extraordinary General Assembly on Friday, vowing to “fight to the end.”
He described the kiss as “mutual” and spoke of “unjust” campaigns and “fake feminism” – comments which prompted fierce backlash from the soccer community, politicians and members of the public.
“We are all very angry at this because all women have suffered some kind of abuse,” Paloma Torres, a 29-year-old lawyer who protested against Rubiales in Madrid told CNN on Monday.
“The moment we saw the images, we automatically thought about our bosses, our professors, our teachers in the schools.”
Inés Jiménez, a 39-year-old project manager who also attended the protests, felt that Rubiales was “forced” to apologize, rather than saying something that “came from his heart.”
Former Spanish national team player Isabel Fuentes told CNN on Tuesday that “there has always been… and there will always be” sexism in football.
“The problem right now is that men at the top of the federation treat us as if they were our fathers, our protectors, as if we belonged to them,” said Fuentes.
Along with mounting public pressure to resign, Rubiales also faces an investigation that could end in sexual aggression charges from Spanish prosecutors.
Meanwhile, his mother, Ángeles Béjar, locked herself in a church and went on hunger strike on Monday in Rubiales’ hometown of Motril, located in southern Spain, to protest what she called the “inhumane, bloodthirsty hunt” against her son, according to Spanish media reports.
CNN Portugal reported from the church and spoke to a friend of Rubiales’ mother, who claimed that the situation is unfair and that she did not believe that Rubiales “committed a sexual assault.”
The friend told CNN Portugal that Rubiales’ mother had recently been “in poor health,” but thought that she would likely continue her hunger strike. “I think she’ll hold out until the end, like her son. I think it’s an injustice. I don’t think that this man committed a sexual assault like they’re saying. That seems too strong to me.”
CNN’s Pau Mosquera, Claudia Rebaza, Radina Gigova, Becky Anderson, Eoin McSweeney and Tara Subramaniam contributed to reporting.