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Spain’s Women’s National Team Is Winning Again

Footballer Jenni Hermoso during the victory celebration at Madrid Rio on August 21, 2023, in Madrid, Spain.
Jose Ruiz/Europa Press via Getty Images

When last we left you regarding Spanish soccer's civil war, the national federation (RFEF) was down bad. Instead of meekly resigning from his position as RFEF president, and in doing so bringing the international scandal he'd initiated to what would've been a tidier close than he or his federation deserved, Luis Rubiales decided to bare his country's ass even further, giving the world a good, clear look at the festering hemorrhoids therein. Against all odds, that raging speech wasn't even rock bottom for Rubiales and the federation. Nevertheless, the heroes of the matter—the members of Spain's women's national team—are moving ever closer to what promises to be yet another towering W.

We left off last time at the immediate aftermath of Rubiales's deranged speech, wherein he announced that not only was he not going to resign over the fallout of his gross and creepy kiss on Jenni Hermoso, he was instead going to fight—against Hermoso, against the "slanderous" statements of all those who called him a disgusting little weirdo for behaving like a disgusting little weirdo, against "fake feminism," against the world's lying eyes. Nearly everyone who heard his bizarre diatribe—everyone except, that is, the sycophants in attendance, who gave him a standing ovation—correctly assessed that the man was losing it. Condemnations poured in from across the world of women's soccer. The relevant Spanish authorities made clear their intention to charge him for violating the RFEF's code of conduct. Everyone awaited the response from the Spanish players.

And respond they did. First, Hermoso herself released the following statement:

In response to the version of events Rubiales laid out during his speech before the federation—that Hermoso had herself started things (?) by lifting him into the air (??), and that before kissing her he'd asked if he could give her a little peck and she said "OK"—Hermoso had this to say:

While it is true that I do not want to interfere with the multiple ongoing legal processes, I feel obliged to report that Mr. Luis Rubiales' words explaining the unfortunate incident are categorically false and part of the manipulative culture that he himself has generated.

I want to make it clear that at no time did the conversation to which Mr. Luis Rubiales refers to in his address take place, and, above all, was his kiss ever consensual. I want to reiterate as I did before that I did not like this incident.

Hermoso went on to say that at first she was so shocked by the incident, and so overwhelmed by the joy of the moment—lest anyone forgot, she had just won the fucking World Cup minutes earlier—that she didn't give it too much serious thought. But upon reflection, she realized that it was wrong, and that she wanted to make sure that kind of "non-consensual behavior" would not go unacknowledged, so she chose to report Rubiales for it. "Simply put," Hermoso wrote, "I was not respected."

From there, Hermoso went on to corroborate the reports that said people in the federation (reportedly Rubiales and manager Jorge Vilda) had pressured her and people close to her to make a public statement absolving Rubiales to take the heat off. Hermoso refused. This also corroborates the report that the statement RFEF released that quoted Hermoso calling Rubiales's kiss "a mutual expression of immense joy" was completely made up by the federation.

Right after Hermoso released her statement, FUTPRO, the women's soccer players union in Spain, released a statement on behalf of the players of the national team.

The statement denounced Rubiales's actions during the World Cup trophy ceremony and since, and also the content of Rubiales's "bewildering speech." The team said it "expect[s] a strong response from the public authorities so these actions do not go unpunished," and called for "real structural changes that will help the National Team continue to grow, in order to pass on this great success to future generations." In closing, the team said that the statement's signatories—which included all 23 players who'd won the World Cup, the remaining 12 of the 15 original boycotters who were not included in the World Cup squad, plus nearly 50 other current and former Spanish players—would refuse to play for the national team until the "current leaders" of the federation were gone. How fucking cool is that.

It might've seemed impossible, but the players' impressive show of unity, power, and resolve has only driven the RFEF further into delirium. Late on Friday, the federation released a new statement responding to the players' FUTPRO one. The rambling letter sought to defend Rubiales's honor by honing in on one particular perceived inconsistency. The FUTPRO statement quotes Hermoso clarifying that, contra Rubiales's version of events, "I never consented to the kiss he gave me, and of course, I never intended to lift the president in the air." The federation statement clings to that last part—Hermoso disputing Rubiales's claim that she tried to pick him up—by proceeding to reel off some 250 words intensely scrutinizing four enclosed photos, which depict Hermoso holding Rubiales aloft. I'm going to include all of that analysis here, because it is hilarious (translated from Spanish using Google Translate):

Photo 1:

Ms. Jennifer Hermoso, with her arms, grabs the RFEF President from behind, while Mr. President has his arms loose on the upper part of the player's back. Therefore, no force could exert.

You can see how Mr. President has the heels of his feet raised slightly.

Photo 2:

Ms. Jennifer Hermoso keeps her arms around Mr. President's back. Mr. President keeps his arms on top of the player's body.

It is verified how Mr. President already has much higher heels.

Photo 3:

Ms. Jennifer Hermoso continues to keep her arms in the same position as the president's body while the president must bring his arms closer to the player's back as a result of having lifted him off the ground and to maintain balance.

The inclination of the back of Mrs. Jennifer Hermoso that occurs when she is performing an action of force is indisputable.

Mr. President's feet are clearly and manifestly lifted off the ground as a result of the action of force carried out by the player.

Photo 4:

Mrs. Jennifer Hermoso continues to keep her arms in the same position as the president's body while the president must continue to hold on to the players so as not to fall and it is evident that the arching of the player's body corresponds to the lifting force of Mr. President you are performing.

The feet of Mr. President are ostensibly raised off the ground as a result of the player's action.

The evidence is conclusive. Mr. President has not lied.

There are a couple big problems with this line of inquiry. For one, even if everything the federation lays out here is exactly the way they describe it—that Hermoso did in fact try to and succeed in picking up Rubiales, and she has since lied about it—it would not make one iota of difference as to the only thing that really matters here: that Hermoso did not consent to Rubiales kissing her, and that him doing so was deeply inappropriate. (For that matter, it doesn't even matter if he did ask her permission first; a superior asking a subordinate for a kiss in this context is inherently coercive. As Hermoso herself put it in her Instagram Live video from the locker room that night, "What was I supposed to do?") Remember, Rubiales's argument here is essentially that by trying to lift him off his feet while hugging him, Hermoso had automatically consented to a chain of actions that would end in Rubiales gripping the sides of her head and laying a kiss on her lips. It completely beggars belief that Rubiales and his grunts in the federation would think this little pick-up thing was some smoking gun that exonerates him.

Not only that, but all of that lifting analysis appears to be wrong on its own merits. During the TV broadcast, the camera had cut away from Rubiales at the moment when they first embrace, when this lifting incident occurred. However, an intrepid sleuth found footage of the moment in question:

In light of the evidence, the most likely scenario appears to be that Rubiales jumped onto Hermoso while she was hugging him rather than her picking him up of her own volition. This reading of the incident would match Hermoso's exactly; in the FUTPRO statement, Hermoso didn't deny ever lifting Rubiales, but rather that she ever "intended" to lift him. When choosing between the word of the woman whose story has remained coherent and consistent throughout this ordeal, and the man whose story changes depending on what he feels is in his best interest at the moment—first he said it was no big deal and those offended were "idiots" and "assholes," then he said he realized his actions were wrong and he apologized to anyone who might've been offended, and now he's totally innocent and even asked for explicit consent every step of the way—I think it's clear whose version of the story is more credible.

That was where things ended on Friday. Saturday morning, FIFA came in and issued Rubiales a provisional suspension. That means he is no longer the acting RFEF president, and will not be at least for the next 90 days while FIFA's disciplinary committee performs its own investigation. Following the suspension, 11 of the federation's women's soccer coaches, which included the bulk of Jorge Vilda's coaching staff, released their own statement condemning Rubiales's behavior. The statement said that the federation had strategically sat some of the coaches, a number of whom are women, near the front of room during Rubiales's speech, no doubt hoping that their televised presence would give the impression that the president had the backing of at least some women. The statement ended with the undersigned coaches tacitly tendering their resignations.

After that, the RFEF put out yet another statement going after Hermoso. This one was even more unhinged than the first. It repeatedly called Hermoso a liar, accused her and the players union of "falsifying reality and committing very serious crimes," claimed that she has been "abducted by the FutPro Union," and threatened lawsuits against anyone saying things the federation doesn't like. Their smoking gun this time was the original interview Hermoso gave the night of the World Cup final, where she tried to downplay the Rubiales kiss amidst the joy of the moment. Naturally, those first comments of hers are perfectly in line with her latest statements, where she said she at first didn't think too much about the kiss because she was so happy having won the World Cup. But logic clearly isn't the strong suit of the people coming up with this stuff.

You might have trouble finding that second RFEF statement (though it's reproduced here), because the federation deleted it not long after it went up. Acting RFEF president Pedro Rocha—whom Rubiales ensured would assume the role upon Rubiales's inevitable suspension when he stripped eight of his nine vice presidents of their rank the night before his Wolf of Wall Street act, leaving only Rocha remaining—said he instructed the federation to delete the missive because it was "inappropriate." (If you're wondering whether Rocha then fired the members of the communications department for writing and releasing the demented letter, I'm sure you already know the answer.) Smarter money puts the decision to delete it down to FIFA's original suspension of Rubiales, which prohibited him and the federation from addressing Hermoso directly.

And the team behind the deleted second statement aren't the only Rubiales loyalists lashing out behind the scenes to save their man. Onda Cero reported on Monday that RFEF general secretary Andreu Camps has filed a complaint to UEFA asking the body to sanction ... the RFEF itself. Camps's thinking, if you can call it that, is that the Spanish government has violated the RFEF's independence by meddling in the federation's affairs. This "meddling" consists of little more than some high-ranking politicians, like vice president Yolanda Díaz, who've criticized Rubiales's behavior and called for his resignation. Because of the government's so-called interference, Camps is asking UEFA for a total and complete shut down the RFEF until they can figure out what's going on.

The knock-on effects of this shutdown, were it to happen, would be the restriction of all Spanish club and national teams from UEFA competitions like the Champions League and the Euros. The move is meant as a bluff. The hope is that UEFA will threaten the federation with this so that the federation could then use that threat to get the government to back off. Nevertheless, it's stunning how the Rubiales revanchists are so maniacal about their cause that they're willing to risk burning all of Spanish soccer to the ground.

From FIFA's suspension, the fervor of the local and international outrage, the pending legal charges, Rubiales's mother locking herself inside a church and declaring a hunger strike (it's true; she's promised to starve herself until the "inhuman, bloodthirsty witch hunt which my son is being subjected to" is over), and the irate politicians gunning for him, it's evident that Rubiales's days are numbered. If all of those things by themselves didn't convince you of that fact, then the ass-covering statements released by Vilda and men's national team manager Luis de la Fuente over the weekend, in which they both feign outrage while trying to distance themselves from the man they were seen clapping and standing for on Friday, should do the trick.

Thankfully, it is surely too little, too late. It might take a while (Rubiales is protected by a couple cut-throat lawyers who have been very effective at saving his ass before), but eventually Rubiales will almost certainly be kicked out of soccer for good. His permanent replacement will almost certainly boot Vilda, too, especially since there's surely no way any of the 81 players who signed the union letter will play for the man who was so happy to be joined at the hip with Rubiales right up until the point when it was clear Rubiales's career was dead. De la Fuente very well could get got too when it's all said and done. The point is, the fire is coming, and it will consume more than Rubiales alone.

Fans of Spanish women's soccer around the world found themselves in a bit of a pickle coming into the World Cup. It was hard to root for Spain's inarguably cool and great players, because of the risk that the nefarious elements in the federation would try to co-opt that success as their own. But as we all know now, there was no reason to fear. Sure, the team's coach is a dunce and the federation's president a buffoon, but the players are so great that they were able to triumph over their opponents on the field and also their foes in their own federation. In doing so, they have united around each other and healed the divide between the World Cup players and the ones who, out of principle, refused to compete for many of the very reasons Rubiales's actions have instantiated. The job's not done yet, but barring a totally unforeseeable comeback, the members of Spain's women's national team are on the verge of another historic victory—one that, far from overshadowing it, will only add to the shine of the one they earned Down Under.

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