Luis Rubiales: The controversy around Spanish FA president explained

  • Luis Rubiales kissed Spanish forward Jenni Hermoso after the Women's World Cup final
  • Players, managers and members of parliament were part of a fierce public backlash against the Spanish FA president
  • Rubiales sensationally declared he would not be resigning despite the controversy
Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales has been in the spotlight for his actions during and after the 2023 Women's World Cup final
Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales has been in the spotlight for his actions during and after the 2023 Women's World Cup final / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Idiot, loser, d***head, dumbass. That was how Luis Rubiales chose to describe, not himself, but those who criticised his behaviour during and after the 2023 Women's World Cup final.

The hotly controversial actions of the Spanish football association (RFEF) president - and his outrageously unrepentant response over the following days - have stolen the spotlight from Spain's triumph on the global stage.

By beating England in last Sunday's final, La Roja claimed their first-ever senior Women's World Cup, lifting the trophy one year after the Under-17 and Under-20 teams won their equivalent tournaments.

Yet, this unprecedented pool of talent is tethered to a federation run by a man accused of "sexual violence" by a member of Spanish government. Just as the public uproar seemed to have pushed Rubiales out of the door, another twist emerged in this depressing tale.

Here's everything you need to know about the controversy surrounding Rubiales.

What did Luis Rubiales do at the 2023 Women's World Cup final to spark the controversy?

Rubiales arrived in Sydney for the final of the 2023 Women's World Cup on Sunday 20 August as the RFEF president but behaved like a rowdy fan as Spain inched towards history. While his English counterpart Prince William watched from the other side of the world, Rubiales grabbed his crotch in celebration as he stood next to Spain's Queen Letizia and her 16-year-old daughter Sofia.

The overexcitement had not ebbed away by the time Rubiales got onto the pitch for the medal ceremony. Seven months earlier, Rubiales had let the players of Barcelona Femeni collect their own medals for the Spanish Supercopa but was front and centre at the World Cup final.

The former Levante defender embraced each Spanish player as they made their way along the podium but placed both hands around Jenni Hermoso's head and kissed her on the lips.

As the celebrations were moved to the dressing room, footage emerged of Rubiales inviting the team on a holiday to Ibiza. "There," he said with one arm draped over Hermoso, "we will celebrate the wedding of Jenni and Luis Rubiales."

What was the reaction to the Luis Rubiales controversy?

Hermoso, Spain's all-time leading goalscorer, provided the immediate reaction in an Instagram Live video. "Yeah [it happened], but I didn't like it."

RFEF subsequently quoted Hermoso as describing the incident as "a mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous due to the immense joy of winning a World Cup". Hermoso added: "There should be no more made of this gesture of friendship and gratitude." Yet, by Wednesday, with enough time to properly examine the situation, the Spanish forward emphatically changed her public stance with the release of a new statement.

"We are working to ensure that acts such as those we have seen never go unpunished," Hermoso said, "that they are sanctioned and that the exemplary measures are adopted to protect women footballers from actions that we believe are unacceptable."

Rubiales wrote the matter off as a "peck" but Spain's equality minister Irene Montero was scathing in her critique: "It is a form of sexual violence that we women suffer regularly and, until now, invisibly and that we cannot normalise," Montero posted on social media. "It is a task for all of society. Consent must be central. Only yes means yes."

Spain's sports minister Miquel Iceta described it as "unacceptable" and Adriana Lastra, a member of the government's congress, labelled the act "pure sexism". The Spanish publication El Pais led with the headline: "Jenni didn't like Rubiales' kiss, neither did we."

Two-time World Cup winner with the US women's national team Megan Rapinoe lamented the "deep level of misogyny and sexism" displayed by Rubiales.

Clubs in the Spanish men's top flight, La Liga, were slower to voice their opinion. Before Rubiales' incendiary press conference on 25 August, only four teams had officially called for the president's resignation. While Barcelona and Real Madrid's silence was deafening, Atletico Madrid were the biggest institution involved but Real Sociedad's manager Imanol Alguacil summed it up best. "It is defined in one word: unacceptable. With that, everything is said."

Will Luis Rubiales be punished by FIFA?

Luis Rubiales (centre) have been president of the Spanish FA since 2018 / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/GettyImages

Four days after the World Cup final, FIFA belatedly opened disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales. World football's governing body revealed Rubiales' actions "may constitute violations of article 13 paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Fifa Disciplinary Code".

Article 13 is titled "Offensive behaviour and violations of the principles of fair play" and applies to "players, officials and any other member and/or person carrying out a function" for an association - as president of RFEF, Rubiales falls under this umbrella.

The Disciplinary Code states that individuals will be punished if they are found "violating the basic rules of decent conduct" or "behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute".

Rubiales is an executive committee member and a vice-president for UEFA, European football's governing body, which has not acted.

What has Luis Rubiales said about the controversy?

Luis Rubiales
Luis Rubiales was initially unrepentant / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Given his track record, it was unsurprising that Rubiales came out swinging. "We do not pay any attention to idiots and stupid people," the president told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope. "It is really all just nonsense, [from] d***heads and dumbasses. These are just losers who did not know how to see the positive side."

Yet, as the public outrage roared on, Rubiales was forced to record a public apology. "I was completely wrong," he said. "I have to admit it. It was without bad intention at a time with a lot of excitement. In the moment, we saw it as natural, but outside a commotion has formed."

Spain's prime minister Pedro Sanchez dismissed Rubiales' mealy-mouthed statement as "an unacceptable gesture". "Rubiales' apologies are not enough," Sanchez said. "I even think they are not adequate. He has to continue taking steps to clarify what we all saw."

Yolanda Diaz, Spain's second deputy prime minister, was not alone in calling for Rubiales' resignation. Ahead of an emergency general assembly called by RFEF "as a matter of urgency" for Friday 25 August, all signs seemed to suggest Rubiales would accept defeat.

Has Luis Rubiales resigned as Spanish FA president?

Jorge Vilda, Luis Rubiales
Luis Rubiales (right) with Spain's controversial manager Jorge Vilda / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

"I am not going to resign. I am not going to resign. I am not going to resign," Rubiales bellowed before those assembled at an extraordinary RFEF meeting.

The head coaches of the men's and women's Spanish national teams, Luis de la Fuente and Jorge Vilda, both applauded the tirade that Rubiales launched.

"The time has come to say something," Rubiales began. "I was wrong and it was not the time to make that gesture. Do you think it is serious enough for me to suffer through this hunt? Is it serious enough for me to leave?"

Rubiales, back to his unrepentant self, insisted that the kiss was "spontaneous, mutual and consensual". Recounting events that were recorded by the world's media, Rubiales claimed: "The moment Jenni appeared, she picked me up from the ground and when she put me down, we hugged and I told her: 'Forget about the penalty [Hermoso had a spot kick saved during the final], you have been fantastic at the World Cup'.

"She told me: 'You are a star,' and I said: 'A little peck?' and it happened."

To compound a truly stunning turn of events, Rubiales offered Vilda a new four-year contract with an annual salary of €500,000. Vilda had attracted the brunt of the public's ire throughout the tournament as talk of a divide between the coach and certain players was rife but RFEF - led by Rubiales - stuck by their man.

Much like Vilda, Rubiales doesn't appear to be going anywhere either.