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Spain Footballers Won’t Play Until Chief Ousted Over Kiss

(Bloomberg) -- The members of Spain’s champion women’s national team said they would refuse to play another game until the leader of the football federation is removed for kissing a teammate without her consent.

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Association President Luis Rubiales is facing a probable suspension from the Spanish government over the incident, in which he grabbed Jennifer Hermoso, a star Spanish player, and kissed her on the lips after the team’s victory in the World Cup final. At an extraordinary meeting of the federation, Rubiales repeatedly insisted that he doesn’t intend to resign over the incident.

FutPro, the union representing the players, said in a statement that it supports Hermoso, who reiterated that the kiss wasn’t consensual. The nation’s sports council — which oversees Spain’s sports associations — said it will file a complaint against Rubiales at a sports tribunal and wants the case to be heard on Monday. If the court accepts the complaint, the sports council will immediately move to suspend him.

Rubiales’s behavior has cast a pall over the Spanish women’s first World Cup title run, which had captivated the country. The federation president, 46, has also faced a backlash for grabbing his crotch while celebrating a goal in the director’s box during the match, where he was standing next to Spain’s Queen Letizia and one of her daughters.

“We want this to be the ‘Me too’ moment for Spanish football,” Victor Francos, who heads the sports council, said at a news conference in Tarragona. “I apologize to the players, because they did not deserve this week,” he added. “Hopefully we can celebrate again when this storm passes.”

The controversy comes during a period of political deadlock in Spain following an inconclusive national election on July 28. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has retained the job in a caretaker capacity as both he and conservative opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo seek ways to find enough support to win an investiture vote.

Sanchez has repeatedly characterized his government as feminist, and the premier’s three deputies are women. But the administration has also been plagued by gender rights controversies.

Notably, the government pushed through a sexual consent law sponsored by Equality Minister Irene Montero that sought to tighten punishments for sexual abuse, but had the unintended consequence of leading to the release and shortening of sentences of hundreds of convicted offenders.

As part of the legal re-jigging, sentences on certain types of crimes ended up being shorter, and in some cases offenders could request a revision.

Montero was among the public figures who lambasted Rubiales. He mentioned her by name Friday in his speech as one of those who are engaged in what he called a “public murder.” He also said he plans to take politicians who criticize him to court.

“I am willing to be vilified to defend my ideals and to say the truth,” Rubiales said. “For god’s sake, what will a woman think that has really been sexually assaulted?”

A labor union that represents Hermoso called his actions “unacceptable,” while FIFA — the sport’s global governing body — opened disciplinary proceedings against Rubiales.

Several of Hermoso’s teammates, including Alexia Putellas, two-time winner of the world’s best player award, signaled their support for Hermoso following Rubiales’s statement Friday.

Hermoso initially said in a video posted on her Instagram feed that she “did not enjoy” the kiss. A subsequent statement sent by the federation to the news agency EFE quoted her as saying that “it was a mutual gesture, totally spontaneous because of the immense joy that winning a World Cup brings.”

Rubiales said Friday that the kiss was consensual as he had asked Hermoso’s permission and she had agreed. “Fake feminism doesn’t seek justice or truth, doesn’t care about people,” he said, adding that he feels like a victim of “a social execution.”

Late on Friday, airline Iberia, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, became the first of the Spanish federation’s sponsors to wade into the scandal.

“When offensive situations occur, which are out of place in developed, modern and egalitarian societies such as Spain, Iberia supports the necessary and appropriate measures that have to be taken to preserve the rights and dignity of athletes,” the carrier said in a statement.

--With assistance from Carolina Gonzalez.

(Updates with Iberia comment in final paragraph. An earlier version corrected the second paragraph to reflect that suspension hasn’t taken effect)

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