GENEVA (AP) — The Spanish soccer official who provoked a players’ rebellion and reckoning on gender when he kissed an unwilling star player on the lips at the Women’s World Cup final trophy ceremony was banned for three years on Monday by the sport’s global governing body.
Luis Rubiales’ conduct at the Aug. 20 final in Australia — and his defiant refusal to resign as Spanish soccer federation president for three weeks — distracted many people from the women’s career-defining title win.
Rubiales is now barred from working in soccer until after the men’s 2026 World Cup. His ban will expire before the next women’s tournament in 2027.
Spanish authorities have launched a criminal investigation against Rubiales for kissing Jenni Hermoso on the lips after the team’s 1-0 victory over England in Sydney, and his conduct in the fallout from the scandal.
Spanish prosecutors have formally accused Rubiales of sexual assault and coercion. Hermoso said that Rubiales pressured her to speak out in his defense amid the global furor.
Rubiales denied wrongdoing to a judge in Madrid who imposed a restraining order for him not to contact Hermoso, the record goal scorer for the Spain women’s team.
FIFA has said it was investigating whether Rubiales violated “basic rules of decent conduct” and “behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”
In another incident, at the final whistle in Sydney Rubiales grabbed his crotch as a victory gesture while he was in an exclusive section of seats and Queen Letizia of Spain and 16-year-old Princess Sofía were standing nearby.
A third incident FIFA judges cited to remove Rubiales from office during their investigation — “carrying the Spanish player Athenea del Castillo over his shoulder during the post-match celebrations” — was detailed in a ruling to explain why he was provisionally suspended.
Women’s soccer has seen allegations of sexual misconduct by male soccer presidents and coaches against female players on national teams.
Two of the 32 World Cup teams, Haiti and Zambia, had to deal with such issues while qualifying for the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Even before the Women’s World Cup, Rubiales — a former professional player and union leader — had been the target of unproven allegations of a sexual nature about his managerial culture, including at the national federation he led since 2018.
The Spanish players’ preparation for the Women’s World Cup also was in turmoil in the year ahead of the tournament because of their dissatisfaction with the leadership of their male coach, Jorge Vilda.
Vilda was supported by Rubiales to stay in the job despite 15 players asking last year not to be called up again because of the emotional pain it meant to play for the team. Three continued their self-imposed exile and refused to be selected for the World Cup.
As the Rubiales scandal continued into September, with lawmakers supporting the players, Vilda was fired by the federation’s interim management.
Rubiales resigned from his jobs in soccer on Sept. 10 after three weeks of defiance that increased pressure on him from the Spanish government and national-team players.
“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 when finally giving up the federation presidency.
He also gave up his vice presidency of European soccer body UEFA which paid him 250,000 euros ($265,000) a year. One day later UEFA thanked Rubiales for his service in a statement that offered no backing to the women players.
When Rubiales resigned he said he did not want to be a distraction from Spain’s bid to host the men’s 2030 World Cup in a UEFA-backed project with Portugal and Morocco.
That bid has since been picked by FIFA as the only candidate to host the 2030 tournament in a plan that now also includes its former opponents Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. That unprecedented three-continent deal has allowed Saudi Arabia to emerge as the overwhelming favorite to host the men’s 2034 World Cup.
The Morocco soccer federation that partnered with Spain on the men’s 2030 World Cup later hired Vilda to coach its women’s national team. The Morocco women were a standout story at their World Cup reaching the last-16 knockout round in their tournament debut.
The quick forgiveness of Vilda fueled the view that soccer administrators’ actions often do not meet their claims of zero tolerance of misconduct.
Rubiales can choose to appeal his three-year ban, first to FIFA and subsequently at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
FIFA said Rubiales has 10 days to request the full written verdict in his case which it would then publish.
“FIFA reiterates its absolute commitment to respecting and protecting the integrity of all people,” the Zurich-based soccer body said Monday, “and ensuring that the basic rules of decent conduct are upheld.”
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