Luis Rubiales, the suspended head of the Spanish soccer federation, finally folded under immense pressure Sunday and resigned three weeks after his kiss of a player on the lips overshadowed Spain's first-ever Women's World Cup title.
Rubiales had been at the centre of a controversy that had gone far beyond Spain's borders and the world of sport after he kissed Jenni Hermoso during the globally televised awards ceremony after Spain beat England to win the title on August 20 in Sydney, Australia. The player said the kiss was without her consent.
“After my swift suspension by FIFA, and the rest of the cases building against me, it is clear that I cannot return to the post,” Rubiales said on Sunday in a message posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He had already been temporarily suspended from his job by FIFA for his conduct at the final and, after soccer's world body opened a disciplinary case, remained defiant and hostile toward those who criticized him.
Then came the most serious threat yet to Rubiales, when Spanish state prosecutors accused him on Friday of sexual assault and coercion after the kiss, two days after Hermoso formally accused him of sexual assault.
Once the most powerful man in Spanish soccer, Rubiales insisted the kiss was consensual and done in a moment of jubilation. He said it was like one I could give one of my daughters.
Hermoso denied that claim in statements issued by her and her players' union. The player also said she and her family were pressured by the federation to show their support for Rubiales. Fans, players and politicians publicly disagreed with Rubiales and saw it as a sexist act and the abuse of authority.
The former president of the Spanish soccer federation has done what he had to do, Spain's Secretary of State for Sport Vctor Francos told Spain's Cadena SER radio. “I think it is what practically the entirety of Spanish society had asked him to do.”
Rubiales said he had also resigned as UEFA vice president due to the reputational danger the scandal could inflict on Spain's joint bid to host the 2030 men's World Cup along with Portugal, Morocco and possibly Ukraine.
Rubiales said that he had told interim Spanish federation president Pedro Rocha who replaced him when Rubiales was suspended on August 26 of his resignation late Sunday night. The Spanish federation confirmed Rubiales' resignation in a statement, adding that it would follow its statutes and call an election for a new president.
Also Sunday, Rubiales said, “I am going to (resign), I cannot continue my work,” in reply to a question from TV host Piers Morgan on Britain's TalkTV. Clips from the show were released Sunday at a similar time to Rubiales' social media post appearing.
“My father, my daughters, I spoke with them ... and some friends very close to me, and they say to me Luis, now you have to focus on your dignity and to continue your life, because if not, probably you are going to damage people you love, and the sport you love,” Rubiales told Morgan. “In this situation now, (it is) the thing I have to do.”
Two weeks ago, Rubiales had been expected to step down amid the immediate wave of criticism for his conduct at the final, which included a lewd gesture of grabbing his crotch, with Spain's Queen Letizia and her teenage daughter, Princess Sofa, nearby. Instead, in a defiant August 25 speech before his federation's general assembly, he refused to go quietly and claimed he was the victim of a witch hunt by false feminists.
That led FIFA to provisionally suspend him just one day later; the Spanish government to start a motion to have him ruled unfit to hold his office; and Hermoso's accusation of sexual assault.
Rubiales' behaviour at one of soccer's premier global events had drawn scorn from Spain's politicians, its soccer leagues, clubs, players and fans, amid talk of a “Me Too" movement in Spanish soccer. The uproar against Rubiales coincides with a strike by Spain's women's league as its players call for higher wages.
Rubiales' public supporters other than his mother, who held a short-lived hunger strike in a church in southern Spain soon abandoned him. Those included the coaches of Spain's women's and men's teams. His own federation also publicly asked him to step down.
After Spain's state prosecutors opened the door to him facing criminal charges, and even possible prison time if convicted, Rubiales finally agreed to resign.
“Insisting in waiting and hanging on would not contribute anything positive (for) either the federation or Spanish soccer, among other reasons, because the powers that be would stop me from returning (to my job),” Rubiales said in his statement.
Hermoso, 33, now plays for Mexican club Pachuca after a long career in Europe. She helped Barcelona win the 2021 Women's Champions League, and came second in Ballon d'Or voting to teammate Alexia Putellas that same year.
Rubiales will also resign as a vice president at UEFA, the European soccer body which pays him 250,000 euros ($268,000) annually in a job he was appointed to in 2019. He first had to be elected onto UEFA's executive committee by European soccer federations. UEFA has taken no action against Rubiales, even after FIFA opened a disciplinary case 18 days ago.