All eyes are on Spain, and not because their women’s national team just notched their first star after an impressive World Cup run in Australia and New Zealand. Instead, the attention is because Royal Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales chose to mark that win by forcibly kissing standout forward Jenni Hermoso during the team’s medal ceremony following their 1-0 win against England in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Footage of the kiss and of Rubiales appearing to grab his groin while celebrating the team’s victory quickly went viral, and prompted Hermoso to explain that the kiss was not consensual and made her feel vulnerable and shocked during the interaction. Since then, legal action has been threatened against Hermoso, Rubiales has been suspended from his post, his mother has gone on a hunger strike, and a larger conversation around abuse in women’s sports has captivated the world.
Here’s a timeline of the scandal and where things stand now in Spain’s fight against a corrupt federation and the man it’s choosing to protect.
Aug. 20th: Rubiales kisses Hermoso without her consent.
During the FIFA World Cup medal ceremony, Rubiales aggressively grabs Hermoso by the face and kisses her on the lips. The RFEF president is seen on stage next to Spanish royal Queen Letizia and her daughter, Princess Sofia, when the assault occurs. Footage of him grabbing his crotch when the match’s final whistle blew would later circulate. In an Instagram Live video following the ceremony, Hermoso admits she “did not like” the kiss.
Aug. 21st: RFEF attempts damage control
After criticism of Rubiales begins circulating, the RFEF releases a statement in which Hermoso defends Rubiales’ actions by saying, “It was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the immense joy that winning a World Cup brings.” Those quotes are later thought to have been doctored by the RFEF after Hermoso denied Rubiales’ request for her and other Spanish players to speak on his behalf. Instead, the federation’s president records a solo apology video in which he explains his behavior as “normal, natural, and not at all in any bad faith.” Despite feeling he had done nothing wrong, Rubiales ends the clip by asking for forgiveness from anyone who “felt hurt” by his actions.
Aug. 22nd: Calls mount for Rubiales to step down
Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez deems Rubiales’ actions disgraceful and his apology insufficient, saying “It shows that in our country there’s a long way to go in terms of equality and respect between men and women. What we saw was an unacceptable gesture. I think the apology Mr. Rubiales has given wasn’t sufficient, I’d say it wasn’t adequate, and Mr. Rubiales should keep taking further steps.”
Aug. 23rd: Hermoso breaks her silence
FUTPRO, the player’s union that represents Hermoso and other Spanish national team members, released a statement calling for immediate action to be taken against Rubiales referred to the kiss as “acts that should never go unpunished.” Both the Spanish Players’ Association (AFE) and Liga F, the country’s women’s league, also call for Rubiales to resign. The RFEF calls for an emergency meeting in response.
Aug. 24th: FIFA opens its investigation
FIFA, football’s global governing body, opens a disciplinary investigation into Rubiales’ conduct at the tournament. Spanish media report that the RFEF president is expected to resign at the emergency meeting to be held the next day.
Aug. 25th: Rubiales doubles down
In a surprise move, Rubiales takes to the podium during the RFEF’s emergency meeting to issue a meandering rant that ends with him refusing to step down and instead offering Spanish coach Jorge Vilda a contract extension. Rubiales declares “I am not going to resign” a total of five times during the speech while calling the assault a “consensual peck” and claiming he is the victim of a feminist witch hunt. Vilda, who Rubiales supported during a player revolt last year that saw 15 national team members protest because of poor training conditions and his controversial management style, is seen applauding.
Aug. 25th: World Cup winners resign
In a letter released by FUTPRO, 81 Spanish players, including the entire 23-woman roster that won the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, state they refuse to play for the federation until meaningful changes are made. The letter also includes an official statement from Hermoso regarding Rubiales’ conduct:
“In view of the statements made by the RFEF president, Jennifer Hermoso wants to categorically deny that she consented to the kiss that Luis Rubiales gave her after the World Cup final: ‘I want to clarify that, as seen in the images, at no time did I consent to the kiss that he gave me and of course, in no case did I seek to lift up the president [Rubiales said she did]. I will not tolerate that my word is doubted, much less words that I have not said invented.’
“It fills us with sadness that such an unacceptable event is managing to tarnish the greatest sporting success of Spanish women’s football. After everything that happened during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony, we want to state that all the players who sign this letter will not return to a call-up from the national team if the current leadership continues.”
Aug. 25th: RFEF threatens Hermoso
The Spanish federation threatens Hermoso with legal action after FUTPRO’s statement. After Hermoso released a personal account of what happened, the RFEF draws up a document filled with bullet points that attempt to assess and interpret Hermoso’s body language during the kiss to prove that it was consensual despite Hermoso voicing her own discomfort during the incident. Along with photos of the kiss, the RFEF statement reads, “The RFEF and Mr. President will demonstrate each of the lies that are spread either by someone on behalf of the player or, if applicable, by the player herself.”
Aug. 26th: FIFA suspends Rubiales
Rubiales is issued a 90-day provisional suspension by FIFA that bans him from football-related activities and orders him to cease contact with Hermoso. Earlier in the week, Hermoso revealed that Rubiales and the RFEF had tried to pressure her friends and family to put out statements supporting the president.
Aug. 26th: Spain’s coaching staff resign
Vilda’s entire 11-member coaching staff resigns, citing the “unacceptable attitudes and actions of the RFEF chief.” Vilda is the team’s only senior official to remain in the wake of the Rubiales scandal. Despite staying on, Vilda issued a statement condemning Rubiales’ behavior.
“The events that have taken place since Spain won the Women’s World Cup for the first time in its history and to this day have been a real nonsense and have generated an unprecedented situation, tarnishing a well-deserved victory for our players and our country,” Vilda said. “I regret deeply that the victory of Spanish women’s football has been harmed by the inappropriate behavior that our until now top leader, Luis Rubiales, has carried out and that he himself has recognized. There is no doubt that it is unacceptable and does not reflect at all the principles and values that I defend in my life, in sport in general and in football in particular. I condemn without doubt any macho attitude, [which should be] far from an advanced and developed society. A clearly undesirable climate has been generated, far from what should have been a great celebration of Spanish sport and women’s sport.”
Aug. 28th: Rubiales’ mother goes on a hunger strike
Early Monday morning, news breaks that Rubiales’ mother, Angeles Bejar, has locked herself inside a church in Granada, intending to go on a hunger strike to protest the treatment of her son. According to a cousin of Rubiales’, Vanesa Ruiz Bejar, his mother is old, in ill health, and has been suffering because of allegations against her son.
“His family is suffering a lot for him. What is happening does not seem fair to us. He has been judged before time, which does not seem normal to us. The evidence speaks for itself. There’s audio, there’s video. We want Jenni to tell the truth. She’s changed her version three times,” Bejar told reporters. “Jenni, we want you to tell the truth.”
Aug. 28th: UEFA denies RFEF’s request
In an effort to pressure the Spanish government into dropping a criminal investigation into Rubiales’ actions, the RFEF sends a request to the UEFA, which oversees the Champions League, to have all Spanish teams banned from competition. Rubiales is the association’s vice president and the RFEF hoped that by preventing major clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid from competing in the tournament they could sway fans, players, and coaches into supporting the federation’s embattled president. The UEFA denies their request.
Aug. 28th: RFEF leaders ask Rubiales to resign
Regional leaders from the Spanish Federation ask Rubiales to resign after scrutiny of the RFEF reaches a fever pitch worldwide. In a statement, the organization said, “After the latest events and the unacceptable behaviours that have seriously damaged the image of Spanish football, the presidents request that Mr. Luis Rubiales immediately present his resignation as president of the RFEF. We will urge the corresponding bodies to carry out a deep and imminent organic restructuring in strategic positions of the Federation to give way to a new stage of management in Spanish football.”
Aug. 30th: Rubiales’ mother taken to the hospital
Just days into her hunger strike, Rubiales’ mother is admitted to the hospital. According to a priest at the church, she had “a crisis” that necessitated medical intervention.
“She’s not here anymore, she had to leave for the hospital because the woman was already tired and had lots of issues already, even some anemic issues so she had to leave,” Father Antonio told CNN.
Aug. 31st: Rubiales’ uncle criticizes him, calls him “cowardly”
Luis Rubiales’ uncle, Juan Rubiales, condemns his nephew’s actions at the World Cup, calling him “a cowardly man” and suggesting he “needs a social re-education programme and a re-education in his relationship with women.” The elder Rubiales had a falling out with his nephew after being fired from his post at the RFEF, later telling the Spanish paper El Confidencial that his nephew allegedly “used federation funds to fuel private trips and parties as well as spy on David Aganzo, the president of the Spanish soccer player’s association.”
Aug. 31st: Spanish FA looks to sack coach Jorge Vilda
The Spanish FA are reportedly discussing terminating Jorge Vilda’s contract following the controversy with Rubiales and the coach’s support of the disgraced RFEF president. Vilda has refused their request to resign.