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Not just kiss row: All the controversies that accompanied Luis Rubiales to the top of Spanish football

Instead of celebrating its Women’s World Cup triumph, Spanish football has been overshadowed by the actions of one of its most powerful men.

Luis Rubiales, the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), has been suspended by FIFA for 90 days after grabbing and kissing player Jenni Hermoso after the final in Sydney on 20 August.

She says that in “no moment” did she consent to the kiss.

He has remained defiant in the face of mounting criticism, saying he’s the subject of a “witch hunt” by “false feminists”.


In an extraordinary speech last week, the 46-year-old said: “Do you really think I deserve this hunt? People demanding my resignation? Is this so serious for me to resign, having done the best management of Spanish football?”

He asked: “Do you think I need to resign?” – before going on to say five times that he would not.

As his fate hangs in the balance ahead of an “extraordinary and urgent” meeting of the football federation later today, Sky News looks at his rise to the top of Spanish football – and the controversies along the way.

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Spain FA boss: ‘I’m not going to quit’

Late start to footballing career

Luis Rubiales was born on the Spanish Canary Islands in 1977 and grew up in the southern province of Granada.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s and his late 20s that his football career took off.

As a defender, he played mainly in Spain’s second division league for clubs such as Mallorca B, Lleida, Xerez and Levante.

Playing for Levante in February 2007

During his time at Levante, they were promoted to La Liga, with Mr Rubiales making 53 appearances for them between 2004 and 2008.

The first minor controversy of his career also came while he was there, leading his fellow players out on strike over unpaid wages.

At the age of 32, in 2009, he signed a one-year deal to move to Scotland and play for the Hamilton Accies – but left after just two weeks and retired back to Spain.

Union chief

The following year he became the president of the Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) union.

While his time there was free of scandal, since the World Cup kissing row emerged, the union’s then-marketing and commercial director, Tamara Ramos, has claimed she quit the AFE having been publicly humiliated by Rubiales on several occasions.

The Spanish federation has accused Ms Ramos of “taking advantage of the current media climate”.

Last year Mr Rubiales insisted there is a “campaign to discredit him”.

He claimed that he “cannot guarantee one day they will put a bag of cocaine in the boot of my car” – without making clear who he was referring to.

Spanish FA boss

Mr Rubiales remained president of the union until November 2017 when he took his current job as head of the football federation. He had already been on the board of directors there for six years.

The federation runs Spain’s men’s and women’s national football teams and its semi-professional and amateur leagues. It also organises the referees for La Liga.

A few weeks into the job, he made a big decision: firing Julen Lopetegui, the coach of the men’s team, just two days before their first match at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

In June 2019
In June 2019

Mr Lopetegui had signed to join Real Madrid after the tournament, and Mr Rubiales accused him of being disloyal to his national team.

With a hastily appointed replacement, Spain failed to get beyond the final 16.

The following year, Mr Rubiales became vice president of UEFA.

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Spain’s World Cup kiss controversy explained

Read more:
Explainer: Who said what in the kiss row
Spanish FA boss accuses player he kissed of lying about it
FIFA opens disciplinary proceedings over World Cup kiss

That same year he was back in the headlines for expanding the Spanish Super Cup from two teams – the winners of La Liga and Copa del Rey – to four – including the runners up as well.

He also moved the competition to Saudi Arabia for $40m (£32m) a year. While the move was lucrative, it drew widespread criticism because of the country’s poor record on human and women’s rights.

A Spanish judge is still examining the contracts awarded for the cup, with accusations of a conflict of interest with former Barcelona star Gerard Pique’s company. Mr Rubiales strongly denies all the allegations.

In 2021, an architect tasked with renovating his Valencia home accused him of non-payment and assault.

Mr Rubiales was found not guilty of both charges against Yasmina Eid Macchet.

In May 2018
In May 2018

World Cup scandal could have cost him key ally

The current controversy over the World Cup kiss isn’t his first involvement with the Spanish women’s side.

When 15 players went on strike, citing their coach Jorge Vilda’s attitude to their “emotional and physical wellbeing”, Mr Rubiales was quick to back him.

Jenni Hermoso  is kissed by president of the RFEF Luis Rubiales during the FIFA Womens World Cup 2023 Final football match

Mr Vilda has stayed loyal to him until now, being quoted after Spain’s semi-final victory over Sweden as saying his support “means so much and will always stay with me”.

Mr Rubiales said in return on Friday: “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.”

Protesters outside the Spanish Football Federation in Las Rozas
Protesters outside the Spanish Football Federation in Las Rozas

Atletico Madrid players and staff hold a banner in support of Spain's Jennifer Hermoso
Atletico Madrid players in support of Jenni Hermoso

When Mr Rubiales delivered his fiery speech to the RFEF’s general assembly last week in which he repeatedly said he would not resign, Mr Vilda applauded him.

Mr Vilda said at the weekend that the controversy was “real nonsense” that had “tarnished a well-deserved victory” – but also criticised Mr Rubiales’ “inappropriate behaviour”.

He did not resign, even as 11 members of Spain’s staff did.

Meanwhile, players, fans and women across Spain and beyond have made which side they are on abundantly clear.


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