The Spain forward Jenni Hermoso has said she did not consent to be kissed by the Spanish football federation president, Luis Rubiales, as the women’s team announced that they would not play until he is removed.
Rubiales has faced fierce criticism for days, as well as a Fifa investigation, after he grabbed Hermoso by the head and kissed her on her lips during the Women’s World Cup final trophy presentation.
Hermoso said in a statement on Friday night that she felt “vulnerable and the victim of an aggression”, hours after Rubiales had vowed to stay on at the helm of Spain’s football federation in a meandering speech that railed against “false feminism” and a “social assassination” of his character.
Rubiales also claimed that he had asked Hermoso if he could give her a little peck. “She said OK,” he said.
Hermoso rejected any suggestion that the kiss was consensual, describing Rubiales’ description as “categorically false” and saying the “conversation did not happen”.
Instead, she said, the incident had initially left her in “shock”, but she was now speaking out. “I feel the need to denounce what happened because I believe that no person, in any work, sports or social environment, should be a victim of this type of non-consensual behaviour,” she said. “I felt vulnerable and the victim of an aggression, an impulsive, machista [chauvinistic] act, out of place and without any consent on my part. Simply put, I was not respected.”
Hermoso added: “I want to reiterate that I do not have to support the person who has committed this action against my will, without respecting me, in a historic moment for me and for women’s sport in this country.”
She said that she had repeatedly rebuffed the Spanish federation’s request to make a comment that would justify Rubiales’ act and lessen the pressure on the football chief. Even so, she claimed that the federation had continued to approach her, as well as her friends and family. “I’m sure that as a world champion national team we do not deserve such a manipulative, hostile and controlling culture,” she added.
Her statement was issued soon after a joint statement that said the World Cup champions would not return to play for the national team as long as the leadership remained in place. Along with all 23 players from the World Cup squad, the statement was signed by 56 other female football players.
It also spoke of the impact the days-long saga has had on La Roja’s World Cup victory. “It fills us with sadness that such an unacceptable incident is managing to tarnish the greatest sporting success of Spanish women’s football,” it said.
Late on Friday, England’s Lionesses – who were defeated by Spain in the World Cup final – released a statement supporting the players’ boycott.
“Unacceptable actions allowed to happen by a sexist and patriarchal organisation. Abuse is abuse and we have all seen the truth,” the England team posted on social media.
“The behaviour of those who think they are invincible must not be tolerated and people shouldn’t need convincing to take action against any form of harassment. We all stand with you, @jennihermoso and all players of the Spanish team.”
Rubiales, 46, had been widely expected to resign, but shocked many across Spain by reiterating that he would not be forced out of his role by what he claimed was a “social assassination”. “I will not resign,” he repeated five times to widespread applause. “I will fight this to the end.”
He apologised for grabbing his crotch as La Roja won the tournament, describing it as an “unfortunate” gesture made in the “euphoria” of the moment. The gesture – made near the country’s 16-year-old princess – was supposedly directed at the team’s coach, Jorge Vilda, as a tribute. “I have to apologise to the royal family,” he said. “It wasn’t very edifying.”
Reaction to Rubiales’ defiant and meandering speech was swift. The Spanish government said on Friday that it would take immediate legal action to make good on an earlier promise to try to have Rubiales removed if the federation – which counts just six women among its 140 members – did not act.
“What we have seen today at the federation’s assembly is unacceptable,” Yolanda Díaz, the labour minister and second deputy prime minister in Spain’s caretaker government, said on social media. “The government must act and take urgent measures: impunity for chauvinistic actions is over. Rubiales cannot continue in the position.”
Several high-ranking members of the federation also reportedly resigned, including Rafael del Amo, who oversaw women’s football, and a handful of others who represented the federation in regions across the country, hinting at dissent within the federation over Rubiales’ stance.
In her statement on Friday, Hermoso pointed to the women’s team’s long-running quest for equal treatment within the federation as they grapple with issues such as inferior salaries and the perception that they are not fully supported by the federation.
“This type of incident joins a long list of situations that we players have been denouncing in recent years,” she said. “This incident is just the straw that broke the camel’s back and one that everyone has been able to see. But attitudes like this have been part of the national team’s daily life for years.”