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Luis Rubiales Put His Disgusting Mark On The World Cup

9:42 AM EDT on August 21, 2023

Luis Rubiales, President of the Royal Spanish Federation greets Aitana Bonmati of Spain after the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Final match between Spain and England at Stadium Australia on August 20, 2023 in Sydney, Australia.
Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

It was impossible not to notice Luis Rubiales in the aftermath of the Spanish women's national team's World Cup victory on Sunday. As the victorious players made their way across a stage to claim their medals and get their first glimpse at the trophy, each of them were stopped on the way by Rubiales, who is president of the RFEF, Spain's soccer federation. The 45-year-old former player looked out of his mind. He was clapping, grinning ear to ear, and vibrating with the kind of excitement that a championship can bring. The players who encountered him were bear-hugged, lifted off the ground, and sloppily kissed on the cheek. When one of Spain's standout players, 33-year-old Jenni Hermoso, reached Rubiales, he grabbed her head and kissed her on the lips.

Later, while the Spanish players were celebrating in the locker room, Hermoso was broadcasting a live video to her Instagram followers. Someone off-camera seemed to ask her about the kiss, to which she responded, while laughing, "No me ha gustado, eh," which means, "I didn't like it."

Rubiales then came into the locker room and, while standing next to Hermoso, announced to the players that the RFEF would be paying for them to take a trip to Ibiza, and then joked that he was going to marry Hermoso while there.

By this point, Rubiales's behavior had become a scandal. Radio Marca's Pablo Parra eventually caught up with Rubiales while he was on his way to the airport, and asked him about negative reactions to the kiss. Rubiales was defiant, telling Parra, "There are idiots everywhere. When two people have a minor show of affection, we can't listen to idiocy."

Hermoso was also asked about the kiss by Cadena COPE, and she brushed it off. "It was the emotion of the moment," she said. "There's nothing else there. It's no big deal." Before the night was over, the RFEF began circulating a statement, attributed to Hermoso, which described Rubiales's kiss as "a mutual expression of immense joy" and a "natural expression of affection and gratitude." The statement also said, "The president and I have a great relationship; his behavior towards all of us has been exemplary."

I don't know what kind of relationship Hermoso and Rubiales have, and it's entirely possible that everything attributed to her in that canned statement released by the federation describes her actual feelings. But even if viewed in the most sympathetic light, Rubiales's actions are still disgraceful.

Even before Sunday, Rubiales was understood to be the biggest villain in Spanish soccer. As the RFEF president, he was the one who created the conditions that drove 15 players to boycott the national team in an attempt to force the federation to start treating the women's team like a professional project. He was the one who decided to go to war with those 15 players, not only by doubling down on manager Jorge Vilda, but by demanding that the 15 boycotters apologize to Vilda or risk being banned from the national team going forward. This doesn't even touch the chaos that Rubiales has caused on the men's national team, which he sabotaged in 2018 by firing manager Julen Lopetegui for no good reason just days before the World Cup kicked off.

When those 15 players walked away from the national team, they did so because they wanted to be treated like professionals. What Rubiales did on Sunday was demonstrate that, even with a World Cup trophy in hand, those players' demands have not been met. Everything this guy does—whether it be supporting a stooge as the national team manager, stamping out dissent, manhandling players on a stage, or treating them to a surprise trip to Ibiza that totally disregards those players' club duties—extends from his unprofessionalism. You watch Rubiales navigate the World Cup final like a walking id, grabbing his balls and kissing his players without a thought in his head, and you see someone who, rather than presiding over a successful professional project, is living out a personal fantasy. The players themselves, the ones who actually won the trophy, only exist within that fantasy as Rubiales's playthings. They are there to be hugged, kissed, praised, or scolded in whichever combination is most personally gratifying to Rubiales.

If there's anything to hope for, it's that the public nature of Rubiales's latest burst of unprofessionalism will be too much for the RFEF to bear. The public backlash against Rubiales has been substantial, and he's been condemned by Spain's Minister of Culture and Sport, who said that it was "unacceptable to kiss a player on the lips," and called on Rubiales to explain himself and apologize. This is perhaps the first time that Rubiales has ever been called on to explain himself during his tenure as the RFEF president, which is how everyone ended up in this situation in the first place. Hopefully, it will be the last.

Update (10:23 a.m.): Rubiales has released a video statement in which he apologized for his actions on Sunday. "I was completely wrong, I have to admit it," he said. "I have to apologise, learn from this, and understand that when you are president you have to be more careful."

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