Spain’s Administrative Sports Court (TAD) have opened a case against Luis Rubiales for a “serious” but not “very serious” breach of conduct after his unsolicited kiss on Jennifer Hermoso after the World Cup final.
TAD’s decision is a setback for the Spanish government, who now cannot suspend him from his position as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation [RFEF]. However, an investigation will follow and he could still be banned from football for a maximum of two years.
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The ruling is based on Spain’s 1990 sports law, which is more lenient, because a more recent update is yet to be implemented. Despite that, through the Superior Sports Council (CSD), the government will still seek his suspension via TAD as the investigation is carried out.
“TAD only considers the [offences] serious. We believe that they are very serious,” said Miquel Iceta, Spain’s minister of culture and sports. “The Superior Sports Council itself could have directly suspended Mr. Rubiales if they were very serious. But as TAD have not qualified it as such, it is up to the court itself. We will file a request for them to take that position.”
In a statement released just minutes after Iceta’s news conference, Rubiales acknowledged the TAD’s decision to open a case and not classify his actions as “very serious.”
“I will continue to defend myself to prove the truth,” he said, criticising the “unprecedented political and media lynching” he has faced.
If TAD had ruled the infraction as “very serious,” the government could have intervened immediately and suspended Rubiales from his role. Instead, he could potentially return to the presidency when his 90-day provisional suspension by FIFA from “all football-related activity” ends.
There is also the possibility of a criminal case and a subsequent criminal penalty.
Spanish prosecutors announced this week that they had begun a preliminary investigation into Rubiales’ conduct and would be offering Hermoso the opportunity to press charges against him.
Rubiales has refused to resign following his behaviour after Spain beat England in the World Cup final in Sydney in August. The committee currently in charge of the RFEF joined the list of sporting bodies and government ministers calling for him to step down earlier this week.
In addition to the Hermoso incident, Rubiales has also been condemned for grabbing his crotch, hugging and kissing other players and carrying another over his shoulder in the celebrations.
He says the kiss with Hermoso was “consensual” and blamed “false feminists” for the outcry. Hermoso refuted his claims and said she felt “vulnerable and the victim of an aggressive act.”
The wider football community has come together in support of Hermoso, with Barcelona midfielder Aitana Bonmatí and England manager Sarina Wiegman both using their platform at the UEFA Champions League draw to condemn the incidents after winning individual awards.
FIFPRO, the global union for professional footballers, “demanded change” in a statement on Friday.
“We, the players, are stronger, more united, and more determined than ever,” it said. “The systems are failing us. Governance is failing us. Accountability is failing. Discrimination runs deep and occurs at every level.
“Football must respond and rise to this critical moment, not only in Spain, but around the world.”
Earlier on Friday, Spain’s men’s coach Luis de la Fuente apologised after condemnation for his applause of Rubiales’ speech last week, when he emphatically refused to resign.
De la Fuente said his actions were “unjustifiable” and that the criticism received has been “deserved,” adding that he had attended the assembly expecting Rubiales to step down and was thrown by the events that followed.
“Given the social, media and political repercussions of my applause, I want to apologise,” De la Fuente said in a news conference at the RFEF’s headquarters.
“The criticism has been deserved, I understand it. [The applause] is unjustifiable. I attended what I thought was a protocol event for the president to step down and it turned into something else, which was not easy to digest. We were in shock; the situation got the better of me.
“My actions do not represent my values. I have always represented equality and respect. In 26 years as a coach, 11 with the RFEF, my behaviour has been faultless.”
De la Fuente has also been criticised for taking a further 24 hours to release a statement condemning Rubiales’ behaviour — and only after FIFA had suspended him — while others have called for his resignation.
“I don’t have to resign, I have to apologise,” he added. “I made an inexcusable human error in a moment of stress and if I could go back in time I would not behave in the same way.
“After the assembly, I met with my coaching staff until late and again on Saturday. I didn’t recognise myself [in the images], but I could not turn around a statement in an hour or two.”
However, De la Fuente did not commit to whether Rubiales should be removed from his position.
“Let the relevant bodies resolve everything,” he said. “Once they have done, that will be the moment to evaluate the situation. I am not here to judge anyone and I don’t think I should.
“We have to keep working to improve equality. A lot has been done in the last 10 years, but there is a lot more to do. We all have to do that, including me. Allow me the right to make a mistake and to rectify it.”
Information from Reuters was used in this report.