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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Spanish soccer official faces sexual abuse investigation as his mother goes on hunger strike

In a bizarre twist in the story that’s been called Spanish soccer’s “MeToo” moment, the mother of the man at the center of a scandal sparked by an unsolicited kiss locked herself in a church and went on hunger strike to protest his treatment Monday. The woman began her protest just hours before a top court said prosecutors had launched an investigation into her son for possible sexual assault.

Ángeles Béjar, mother of Luis Rubiales, the disgraced and now suspended head of the Spanish soccer federation, told Spanish news agency EFE on Monday that she’d shut herself inside a church in the southern Spanish town of Motril and that she would not eat until what she called the “inhumane and bloody”persecution of her son ended.

“He’s not capable of hurting anyone,” she said, wondering “why they are all being so cruel to him.”

Later Monday, prosecutors at Spain’s top criminal court said they’d opened a preliminary investigation into Rubiales’ actions after he kissed star World Cup player Jenni Hermoso on the lips following Spain’s World Cup win, on grounds it could constitute a crime of “sexual assault,” according to French news agency AFP.

Just over a week agoSpain won the FIFA Women’s World Cupfor the first time ever, achieving the highest accolade in the sport and propelling the victorious players to the pinnacle of their careers. The elation was marred soon after the final whistle, however, when during the medal ceremony Rubiales grabbed Hermoso’s face and kissed her without her consent.

Moments before he had grabbed his crotch in an obscene victory gesture while standing next to 16-year-old Spanish Princess Infanta Sofía.

Pressure quickly mounted on Rubiales over his behavior. One Spanish government minister called the kiss a “form of sexual violence that we women suffer on a daily basis and until now has been invisible,” while acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called it an “unacceptable gesture.”

Spanish media reported that Rubiales was expected to announce his resignation. But instead, in an indignant speech, Rubiales said Friday that his kiss of Hermoso had been consensual, describing it as “mutual” and himself as the victim of a “witch-hunt” by “false feminists.”

“I will not resign” he said five times into the microphone as members of the Spanish soccer federation, including current coach Jorge Vilda — himself a subject of controversy — applauded.

Rubiales’ defiance and refusal to resign sparked even more widespread outrage.

Hermoso responded publicly, saying the kiss had not been consensual and that she felt “vulnerable and the victim of an aggression.”

“This incident is just the straw that broke the camel’s back and one that everyone has been able to see,” she said. “But attitudes like this have been part of the national team’s daily life for years.”

The entire women’s soccer team said Friday they would not play until the leadership of the Spanish soccer association was removed. Several men’s players resigned in solidarity with their female counterparts.

The following day, soccer’s international governing body FIFA provisionally suspended Rubiales for 90 days amid an investigation into his conduct.

“Rubiales cannot run Spanish soccer again,” Spanish Minister of Finance and Civil Service María Jesús Montero said Sunday. “We had enough of him when he marred the great triumph of women’s soccer with his intolerable attitude.”

Messages of support continued to pour in for Hermoso over the weekend, from Spanish and foreign soccer players, teams and political parties, with the hashtag “SeAcabó” (it’s over), being picked up across the country.

Rubiales has been replaced by Spanish soccer association vice-president Pedro Rocha, who was to chair an emergency meeting on the scandal Monday. Women’s rights groups were planning a march in Madrid in support of Hermoso the same day.

Spanish sport’s administrative court planned to make an announcement on the Rubiales case Monday evening local time.

“Luis Rubiales is finished,” the president of Spain’s women’s league, Beatriz Álvarez, told The Associated Press. “He has dug his own grave with his acts and his words.”

“Despite Rubiales’ attempts to gaslight all of the women in this country, let’s show that we’re a society that refuses to take a step backwards,” one journalist wrote in Vogue España. “Our World Cup champions will thus have achieved something even more historic than a sporting title: the fall of a man who believed he was invincible.”

This is not the first time powerful men in Spanish soccer have been criticized. Fifteen players resigned in September over complaints about the cultureof the club under coach Jorge Vilda, who called the Rubiales kiss scandal a “real nonsense” on Sunday.

The previous manager of the women’s national team, Ignacio Quereda, was accused of sexual coercion and homophobia by former players.

The Spanish soccer federation has just six women among its 140 members.

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