The on-going chaos that has followed Spanish football in the past week has taken yet another turn, with the mother of shamed federation president Luis Rubiales going on hunger strike in support of her son.
Rubiales was suspended by Fifa – the football world’s governing body – for a provisional 90 day period, whilst an investigation took place following the widespread criticism that the 46-year-old had received, after kissing forward Jenni Hermoso full on the lips immediately after Spain’s Women’s World Cup final win over England in Sydney, Australia.
Hermoso did not react at the time and did not seem unduly concerned, but later said she “did not enjoy” it, nor was it consensual. Rubiales called it “mutual, euphoric and consensual” and refused calls to quit vowing to “fight until the end.”
Mother’s support for vilified son
Now the chief’s mother, Angeles Bejar, has locked herself in a church in her home town of Motril, telling everyone that she was on hunger strike and insisting she would continue with the stance “indefinitely, day and night” until people stopped what she felt was a “witch-hunt against Luis”.
The place of worship in the southern Spanish coastal town where Rubiales was raised, has been swamped by media to whom she spoke only briefly to say that what was being conducted against her son was: “inhuman and something he does not deserve.”
A family spokesperson said: “He has been judged before his time. We want to be left alone and for Jenni to tell the truth; it’s not fair.”
About-turn by the Federation
Initially the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) said it would take legal action over Hermoso’s comments and widely questioned her version of events. However, global pressure seems to have swayed them into an about-turn.
All of the team’s coaches, with the exception of manager Jorge Vilda, resigned in support, even after Rubiales issued an apology saying he was “sorry for those who were offended.”
Long-standing supporter for the women’s game
Previously Rubiales had spoken out in support of the women’s game regarding human rights issues surrounding their football rights in Saudi Arabia. He said: “We are doing a lot here on an ethical level, helping women in football. Some critics invent things, sitting at home, without knowing what really happens, we can’t expect a society to change overnight, but girls can play football here in Saudi Arabia, and that is thanks to the Spanish federation.”
He has never been too far away from controversy and in September 2022 he backed coach Vilda over the players in a massive dispute, which continued into the World Cup tournament. Fifteen players refused to play for the manager at that time and only three made it into the eventual squad that went to Australia.
Manager turns on his biggest supporter
After Spain’s beat Sweden in the semi-final, Vilda praised Rubiales for his support and following his suspension the president was quoted as saying: “Jorge Vilda – they wanted to do to you the same thing that they are doing to me now; we’ve been through a lot, but we’ve been together.”
Now though the manager seems to have turned on his ally when he called the controversial behaviour that has sparked debate all around the world: “inappropriate and unacceptable” in a critical statement he released at the weekend.
Calls for resignation
Then on 28 August with Rubiales still maintaining a defiant stance, the Spanish Football Federation regional leaders called for his immediate resignation from his position, following an extraordinary meeting. They gave their “unanimous support” to interim RFEF chief Pedro Rocha and called for an overhaul of the federation’s management.
In a statement released they urged relevant authorities to carry out a “profound and imminent organisational restructuring in strategic positions of the federation” so as to allow for a new stage in the management of Spanish football.
Prosecutors get involved
With the sorry state of affairs gathering support from all angles, including groups who have made up their mind even without knowing the full circumstances, even Spanish prosecutors have been forced into opening a preliminary investigation into whether the incident amounted to a crime of sexual assault.
They said in light of the “unequivocal nature” of Hermoso’s statements, it had now become necessary to determine their legal significance. The player herself will it says, be offered an option of legal action being brought against Rubiales, should she wish to file an official complaint, although this must be undertaken within 15 days.
No going back
It does strike as a situation that certain individuals have allowed to snowball out of control, and from which there is no going back, with outside influences driving towards personal goals. As a result, and despite having previously commanded immense influence, for Rubiales it has only one likely outcome, given the strength of feeling against him.
Perhaps a little common sense could have seen it all avoided, with apologies accepted and maybe warnings about future behaviour being made public; but sadly for Rubiales his actions have been seized upon by some extremely powerful bodies and for him the consequences could be far reaching.