Rubiales maintains he's the victim in kissing scandal


Spain's government began a move to oust suspended soccer chief Luis Rubiales, who ended a week of silence on Friday by insisting he was the victim of a smear campaign.

Rubiales has come in for a storm of criticism and calls for his resignation for his behaviour during and after Spain's recent Women's World Cup triumph in Sydney. He kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without consent and grabbed his crotch in a lewd victory gesture.

On Friday, a Spanish government legal panel handling sports issues opened a formal case against Rubiales - president of the Spanish Football Federation and a vice president of UEFA - over his conduct that was televised globally, making him a national embarrassment.

Spain is hoping to remove him independently of a FIFA process that has already suspended him provisionally. The government panel will decide if Rubiales abused his authority by kissing Hermoso or damaged the image and reputation of Spain at a sporting event, as the government claims. He could be banned from office for two years.

Following the decision by the panel, Rubiales made his first public statement since refusing to step down a week ago and claiming he was a victim of a "witch hunt" by "false feminists."

"I committed some evident mistakes, for which I sincerely repent," Rubiales said on Friday. He insisted the kiss with Hermoso was "mutual, consensual and occurred in a moment of euphoria" - a characterisation that the player firmly denies.

He added he participated in FIFA's investigation as well as the federation's own internal probe.

"During all this time I have suffered an unprecedented lynching by news outlets and politicians that has completely marginalised me. Not just in Spain but internationally," he said in his statement published on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The decision by the panel, however, to consider Rubiales' acts as allegedly "serious" as opposed to "very serious" dealt a setback to the government. If they had been deemed "very serious" charges, the government could have moved to declare him suspended from office until the panel rules on his case.

Iceta said that while the government cannot directly suspend Rubiales while awaiting the outcome of his case before the panel, as was its intention, it will ask the legal panel to consider suspending him provisionally anyway.

FIFA has already suspended Rubiales for 90 days while it carries out its disciplinary case, so the Spanish decision will have little immediate effect. The panel decision does put more pressure on Rubiales as his few original supporters try to distance themselves from him.

In a statement last Saturday, Hermoso said she considered herself the victim of abuse of power and accused the federation of trying to pressure her into supporting Rubiales.

The federation initially hit back by saying she was lying and it would take legal action against her. But following the FIFA suspension, the federation on Monday urged Rubiales to step down.

Meanwhile, support for Hermoso from Spanish and international officials, athletes and celebrities was overwhelming.