Majority of Spain’s World Cup-winning players refuse to play upcoming matches amid fallout from unwanted kiss

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The vast majority of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad says it will refuse to be called up for the country’s two upcoming Women’s Nations League matches as it continues to push for “real structural changes” in Spanish soccer, following the fallout from ex-soccer boss Luis Rubiales’ unwanted kiss on La Roja star Jennifer Hermoso.

For nearly a month, Spain has been rocked by the incident between ex-Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Rubiales and Hermoso, which has overshadowed the team’s historic victory.

Spain was due to announce a squad for its next two matches on Friday but has now postponed the decision after 39 players, including 21 of the 23-woman World Cup squad, signed a joint letter condemning RFEF.

“As of today, as we have communicated to RFEF, the changes which have been made are not enough so that the players feel in a safe place, where women are respected, women’s football is supported and where we can give our all,” the letter said, which was posted by two-time Ballon d’Or Féminin winner Alexia Putellas on X, formerly Twitter.

“We wish to end this statement expressing that the players of the Spanish women’s national team are professional players, and what most fills us with pride is putting on the shirt of the national team and always taking our country to the highest places.

“Because of that, we believe it is the moment to fight to show that these situations and practices have no place in our football or in our society, that the current structure needs change and we are doing this so that the next generations can have a much more equal football and one at the level which we all deserve.”

In the letter, the players outlined a number of changes they wanted to see within the Spanish federation, including restructuring the women’s football organization, the office of the presidency and the secretary general, the communications and marketing departments, and the integrity department.

“As stated previously, we are breaking down in a detailed way the changes requested so that these type of attitudes never again happen and with the goal of having absolute transparency,” the letter added.

World players’ union FIFPRO posted on X in support of the players’ decision saying, “FIFPRO fully supports the Spain Women’s National Team in their united call for change. #SeAcabó (It’s over).”

Two-time NBA champion and Spanish basketball legend Pau Gasol also added his voice to players, posting: “You have all of my support.”

More change needed

The latest development comes after more than 80 Spanish soccer players – including all of Spain’s 2023 World Cup squad – had put their name on a letter supporting Hermoso on August 25, originally saying they would not return to the national team “if the current leaders continue” in their posts and if there wasn’t “real structural changes” to the federation.

As a result, interim RFEF president Pedro Rocha began to make moves as part of his “regeneration” of the federation, firing controversial coach Jorge Vilda despite Spain’s unprecedented World Cup win and appointing his deputy, Montse Tomé – the first woman to take over the role. Rocha then vowed in a meeting with the president of the High Council of Sport, Víctor Francos, to make more “structural changes” in RFEF.

The announcement from the players is bound to leave Tomé struggling to field a competitive team against Sweden and Switzerland on September 22 and 26.

The development comes after Rubiales testified in Spain’s National Court in Madrid on Friday morning after being summoned by the presiding judge to aid in the court’s investigation into potential charges of sexual assault and coercion against him.

Rubiales resigned from his position on Sunday following weeks of pressure from all spheres of Spanish society and has now been handed a restraining order and told not to go within 200 meters of Hermoso.

How we got here

The dissatisfaction felt by Spanish players dates back beyond September last year, when 15 members of the senior women’s squad sent personally signed letters to RFEF via email to announce they would no longer play for the national team unless there were wholesale changes made throughout the coaching staff.

The identical letters said that “the situation” within the Spanish national team – about which RFEF was “aware” – had been affecting the players’ “emotional state” and health.

Of the 15 players who signed the letters, only three were in Spain’s World Cup squad: Mariona Caldentey, Aitana Bonmatí and Ona Batlle.

Despite the off-field struggles, a young Spanish side produced a magical World Cup run to defy the odds and clinch a memorable title in Australia and New Zealand.

However, success on the pitch continued to be accompanied by a tense atmosphere in the squad and the long-standing animosity between some of the country’s best players, Vilda’s technical staff and RFEF.

Following the team’s victories against the Netherlands and Sweden in the World Cup quarterfinals and semifinals, videos went viral on social media of what appeared to be cold reactions from some of Spain’s substituted players towards Vilda and his staff, as well as during the post-match celebrations.

One clip showed Vilda trying to celebrate with a handful of players following the win over the Netherlands, only to appear to be ignored.

Now that Vilda and Rubiales have left their positions, RFEF would have hoped to kick-start a new chapter in women’s soccer, but Friday’s news shows there is still plenty more work to do.

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