By Fernando Kallas and Emma Pinedo
MADRID - Spanish soccer boss Luis Rubiales on Friday refused to resign for grabbing star player Jenni Hermoso's head and kissing her on the lips after Spain's Women's World Cup victory, leading the national team to mutiny and the government to denounce his "macho actions".
In a joint statement sent via their FUTPRO union, all 23 of the cup-winning squad including Hermoso, as well as 32 other squad members, said they would not play internationals while Rubiales remains head of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).
In the same statement, Hermoso denied Rubiales' contention that the kiss he gave her at the medal ceremony after Spain beat England 1-0 in the final in Sydney, Australia, was consensual.
"I do not tolerate it when my word is put into doubt and less so when words that I have not said are invented," she wrote.
Later, in a statement on social media on Friday, Hermoso added: "I felt vulnerable and a victim of aggression. I was simply not respected."
She said she had been put under "continuous pressure to justify Mr Rubiales' actions" by the RFEF. She added that the incident was "the final straw" in a long list of situations that players had been denouncing for years.
The federation, which has not responded to her latest comments, called an emergency meeting on Friday at which Rubiales had been widely expected to stand down. But instead he said repeatedly that he would not quit and complained that "false feminists" were "trying to kill me".
He called the kiss a "little peck" that was "spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual". He also claimed that he asked Hermoso if he could kiss her and that she said "OK".
"Is a consensual peck going to take me out of here? I won't resign. I will fight until the end," said Rubiales, 46, drawing applause from the predominantly male audience.
The comments and reaction from the audience were widely scorned on social media.
Criticism of Rubiales' behaviour after Spain's win has built throughout the week, and acting Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz called his speech on Friday "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."
Acting Equality Minister Irene Montero said the state prosecutor and the state-run sports council CSD should act to protect Hermoso.
FIFA opened disciplinary procedures against Rubiales on Thursday after Hermoso said in a statement her union was working to defend her interests and that such acts should "never go unpunished".
The government, which cannot sack Rubiales, will seek to have him suspended using a legal procedure before a sports tribunal, the head of the CSD, Victor Francos, told reporters.
"We want all this to be a 'Me Too' of Spanish soccer," Francos said, adding that the CSD could suspend Rubiales during the investigation if the tribunal agrees.
If it can be proven that the kiss was non-consensual, Rubiales could even be tried under a sexual violence law introduced by the ruling Socialists last year.
Gender issues have become a prominent topic in Spain in recent years. Tens of thousands of women have taken part in street marches protesting sexual abuse and violence.
The coalition government has presided over legal reforms including around equal pay, abortion, sex work and transgender rights.
"This is unacceptable. It's over. We're with you, teammate Jenni Hermoso," fellow player Alexia Putellas said on X after Friday's federation meeting.
Some male players also protested.
Borja Iglesias of Real Betis, who last played for Spain in 2022, said on X he would not put himself forward for selection for the national team "until things change and these kinds of acts don't remain unpunished".
At the event on Sunday, Rubiales was also seen grabbing his crotch in celebration while standing next to Queen Letizia in a box at the stadium, for which he apologised on Friday.
The international football players union FIFPro said in a statement it had written to UEFA, where Rubiales is vice president, requesting that it start disciplinary proceedings. UEFA declined to comment.
Rubiales met with key federation members shortly before the assembly and told them about his plans not to resign, according to a federation source.
The only person who objected was Rafael del Amo, president of the national committee for women's football, who said he would step down in protest.