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2023 WWC: Spain’s soccer chief apologises for Jennifer Hermoso surprise kiss

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The Spanish soccer federation chief apologised, on Monday, after an unsolicited kiss on player Jennifer Hermoso’s lips during celebrations of the country’s Women’s World Cup victory sparked outrage, with Spain’s second deputy prime minister calling for his resignation.

The incident happened as federation president Luis Rubiales handed the Spanish team gold medals after they beat England 1-0 in the final on Sunday.

“Surely I was wrong, I have to admit,” Rubiales said in a video statement sent by the federation. “It was without bad faith at a time of maximum effusiveness.”

As the team landed in Madrid on Monday night after their victory in Australia, Rubiales declined to reply to a question about the incident, telling Reuters: “It is time to enjoy and celebrate. We have won a world cup”.

After the kiss, Hermoso told teammates in the locker room that she “didn’t like it,” according to video footage posted on Instagram and YouTube by El Mundo newspaper and other media outlets.

She later downplayed the incident in a statement sent to Spanish news agency EFE by the federation.

“It was a mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous prompted by the huge joy of winning a World Cup,” the statement said. “The ‘presi’ and I have a great relationship, his behaviour with all of us has always been 10 (out of 10) and this was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.”

Post-game video footage also depicts Rubiales kissing other players on the cheek or embracing them when handing out the medals.

Standing besides Spain’s Queen Letizia and one of her teenage daughters on the stadium’s seats, Rubiales enthusiastically celebrated the victory, including by grabbing his crotch while pointing to the field.

Gender issues are a powerful topic in Spain. The Socialist-led government has presided over a raft of legal reforms around gender change, abortion and sex work, but a loophole in its law around sexual consent let rapists out of jail, resulting in a significant electoral loss by far-left Podemos party, in the government coalition, in July’s election.

Asked again about the incident on Spain’s COPE Radio station, Hermoso said: “I wish they created (controversy) involving someone else, I’m a world champion and that’s what matters.”

‘UNACCEPTABLE’

Several government ministers and media commentators criticised the gesture.

Acting Second Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, whose Sumar political platform includes Podemos, called for Rubiales’ resignation because “without any doubt (he) attacked a woman”, arguing that “his excuses do not work at all”.

Acting Culture and Sports Minister Miquel Iceta said on RNE radio the kiss was “unacceptable” and asked Rubiales to provide an explanation and to apologise.

A non-consensual kiss is “a kind of sex violence all women suffer daily, which was until now invisible, and which we cannot normalise”, acting Gender Equality Minister Irene Montero said on social messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

An opinion column in Spain’s top-selling El Pais newspaper on Monday morning was titled: “Jenni didn’t like the kiss and we didn’t either” – describing it as “an intrusion, an invasion of privacy, an aggression”.

Rubiales had initially minimized the outrage, calling critics “idiots”.

“The kiss with Jenni? There are idiots everywhere. When two people have a moment of affection that means nothing more, you can’t listen to idiocy. We are the champions, that’s it,” he said, according to Radio Marca.

But in his apology later on Monday, Rubiales included those who called him out.

“I also want to apologize to these persons,” he said.

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