MADRID (Reuters) -FIFA on Saturday suspended Spanish federation chief Luis Rubiales from all soccer-related activities for three months as it investigates allegations of an unwanted kiss on the lips of player Jenni Hermoso after Spain’s women won the World Cup.
His suspension from national and international activities takes immediate effect, world soccer’s ruling body said in a statement about the action taken by its disciplinary committee chief Jorge Ivan Palacio.
FIFA had opened disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales on Thursday over his actions last Sunday in Sydney. Rubiales said he would defend himself to prove his “complete innocence”.
Rubiales, 46, has been defiant over the kiss – which has been condemned as unwanted by Hermoso, her team mates and the Spanish government – arguing it was consensual. Earlier on Saturday the federation he heads had said it would stick by him.
After the FIFA statement, a spokesperson for the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) said: “We respect all the pronouncements of FIFA.”
In a statement through the federation, Rubiales said: “Luis Rubiales has stated that he will legally defend himself in the competent bodies, he fully trusts FIFA and reiterates that, in this way, he is given the opportunity to begin his defence so that the truth prevails and his complete innocence is proven.”
Gary Lineker, a former England and Barcelona player, summed up much of the public reaction to the FIFA move, posting in Spanish on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Por fin! (At last).”
Rubiales played mainly in Spain’s second division in a career spanning 12 years. When he was elected to lead the RFEF in 2018, he promised to modernise its structure, increase turnover and make the federation more transparent.
Feminist groups staged demonstrations in Madrid, Santander and Logrono on Saturday calling for his resignation.
Rubiales refused on Friday to resign, seeking to defend his behaviour and calling the kiss “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual”.
Hermoso said she did not consent to the kiss and felt “vulnerable and the victim of an aggression”.
In a statement hours before FIFA’s move on Saturday, the federation said it would show there had been lies told about what happened by Hermoso or people speaking for her.
The statement, issued on the RFEF website, said it would take appropriate legal action to defend Rubiales’ honour, but did not say what the action would consist of.
The Spanish government cannot fire Rubiales but has strongly denounced his actions and said on Friday it was seeking to get him suspended using a legal procedure before a sports tribunal.
In a joint statement sent via their FUTPRO union on Friday evening, all 23 of Spain’s cup-winning squad including Hermoso, as well as 32 other squad members, said they would not play internationals while Rubiales remained head of the federation.
In the same statement, Hermoso denied Rubiales’ contention that the kiss was consensual, writing: “I want to clarify that, as was seen in the images, at no time did I consent to the kiss he gave me and, of course, in no case did I seek to lift the president.”
In its statement early on Saturday, the federation said: “The RFEF and the president, given the seriousness of the content of the press release from the FUTPRO Union, will initiate the corresponding legal actions.”
“The RFEF and the president will show each of the lies that are spread either by someone on behalf of the player or, if applicable, by the player herself,” it said.
The statement was accompanied by four photos of the event last Sunday that it said illustrated Rubiales’ contention that Hermoso lifted him by the hips.
Reuters could not immediately reach an official from FUTPRO for comment.
Two of the women’s team’s sponsors expressed support for the players on Friday.
Iberia, part of International Consolidated Airlines Group, said: “When offensive situations occur, inappropriate for a developed, modern and egalitarian society such as Spain’s, Iberia supports the appropriate and pertinent measures that must be taken to preserve the rights and dignity of athletes.”
Power company Iberdrola was quoted by Spanish news agency EFE as saying: “We observe with great concern the situation which has developed in the past few days which has tarnished the great victory of the national team.”
Rubiales had been widely expected to resign at the federation’s emergency meeting on Friday. Instead he said repeatedly that he would not quit and complained that “false feminists” were “trying to kill me”.
Acting Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz called his speech “unacceptable”. She wrote on social media: “The government must act and take urgent measures: impunity for macho actions is over. Rubiales cannot continue in office.”
Gender issues have become a prominent topic in Spain in recent years. Tens of thousands of women have taken part in street marches protesting against sexual abuse and violence.
The Socialist-led coalition government has presided over legal reforms including around equal pay, abortion, sex work and transgender rights.
(Reporting by Graham Keeley; Additional reporting by Rohith Nair; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alison Williams)