On December 6, FIFA released a document explaining its decision to ban former Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) President Luis Rubiales from all soccer-related activities for three years. It not only chronicles Spain player Jennifer Hermoso’s allegations against him regarding his actions at the 2023 FIFA World Cup final, but also witness statements and Rubiales’ own side of the story. Let’s look at some key points in the report.
The FIFA Disciplinary Committee, made up of three men for this case, was specifically investigating whether Rubiales broke Rule 13 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code. It states:
Associations and clubs, as well as their players, officials and any other
member and/or person carrying out a function on their behalf, must
respect the Laws of the Game, as well as the FIFA Statutes and FIFA’s
regulations, directives, guidelines, circulars and decisions, and comply with
the principles of fair play, loyalty and integrity.
For example, anyone who acts in any of the following ways may be subject
to disciplinary measures:
a) Violating the basic rules of decent conduct;
b) Insulting a natural or legal person in any way, especially by using
offensive gestures, signs or language;
c) Using a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature;
d) Behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into
e) Actively altering the age of players shown on the identity cards they
produce at competitions that are subject to age limits
The report breaks down Rubiales’ offenses they were charged with investigating into four incidents:
“Celebrating the Spanish victory by grabbing his crotch/genitals in the WIP area (the Genitals Incident);
Carrying the Spanish player Athenea del Castillo over his shoulder during the post-Match celebrations on the field of play (the Carrying Incident);
Giv[ing] the player Olga Carmona a peck on the cheek during these celebrations (the Peck Incident);
When Ms. Hermoso was facing the Respondent to greet him, the latter hugged her, spoke to her briefly, then put his hands on the back of her head and kissed her on her lips (the Kiss or the Kiss Incident).”
Jennifer Hermoso submitted statements to FIFA sharing what happened to her during the Kiss Incident and the Spanish federations’ actions in the aftermath. These statements are consistent with the statements she posted on social media and through FIFPRO. She reiterated that the kiss “was in no way mutual, nor was it consensual.”
Hermoso described federation officials’ efforts to coerce her to not speak up about the kiss. Hermoso called these efforts “emotional blackmail.” Patricia Pérez, RFEF head of communications, forced Hermoso off a bus to the airport to give a statement downplaying the severity of Rubiales’ actions. Hermoso asked if she had to. Pérez said yes. Hermoso acquiesced, but according to FIFA, she had “never written, read, signed or authorized the RFEF for [her] name to appear in this statement.”
On the team’s victory trip to Ibiza, RFEF Sporting Director Albert Luque told Hermoso through a friend that she owed him a conversation because he had done favors for her before. These favors meant providing hotel reservations, tickets, and more.
In the report, Hermoso detailed her own complicated feelings during the World Cup celebration:
“in calmer moments [the Player] understood the humiliation [she] had been through and the shame [she] felt (...) On the one hand [she] wanted and felt the need to say out loud that it had not been right and, on the other hand, [she] did not want to cloud a moment, a celebration and such a special moment for [her] teammates, for [her] country and for [herself].”
Most hauntingly, Hermoso reflected on the consequences of Rubiales’ actions on her own career:
“As a footballer, she doesn’t know if she will ‘ever be able to recover from the damage [her] image has suffered because after so many years of work and in the best moment of [her] career, [she] feel[s] that [she has] been robbed of the opportunity to be remembered as a world champion, as one of the best players in the tournament and as captain. All these achievements are now tarnished by an act that was completely out of place, inappropriate, forced, unwanted and that at no time could [she] have imagined and that [she] neither consented to, nor provoked.’”
The report reiterated several times that Rubiales never personally apologized to Hermoso for kissing her, nor showed any remorse for doing so.
The Witness Statements
The Disciplinary Committee requested the presidents of the New Zealand football federation (NZF) and the English football federation (FA) to provide their own testimony as witnesses to Rubiales’ actions during the World Cup final. Their joint statement could best be summarized with this quote: “they ‘can speculate about his motive, [they] do feel that he is fully aware of the responsibilities that come with his role and we feel he has abused them, at the same time bringing the game into serious disrepute.’”
The NZF president’s individual statement confirmed Hermoso’s testimony and specifically pointed to multiple violations of Rule 13. She declares that Rubiales’ actions have “brought the success of the FIFA World cup into disrepute (...). It has distracted from what should have been a celebration of the Spanish Team and the month-long successes of the World Cup.” This is exactly what Rule 13 is designed to protect against.
The FA President’s individual statement is similar to the NZF statement, minus one key detail — she noticed Rubiales inappropriately touching English players Laura Coombs and Lucy Bronze. According to her, he “'cupped and stroked' the face of…Laura Coombs, which [the President of The FA] thought was slightly odd and then he seemingly forcefully kissed …Lucy Bronze on her face.”
Luis Rubiales’ Statements
The Spanish FA president reiterates that the RFEF Integrity department found that there was “(...) no violent behavior, abuse of power or sexual connotation in the behavior of [the Respondent], as well as behaviors of rejection or disapproval by [the Player], specifically during the kiss at the awards ceremony to the Spanish Women's Football Team in Australia.”
With regard to the kiss itself, Rubiales said that he “has recognized that it should not have happened and acknowledged that because of his position as President of the RFEF he should have maintain[ed] the highest level of composure.” He explained that he asked Hermoso for the kiss and she responded with “okay then.”
Rubiales also claimed that there’s a double standard: “[i]n the celebration of the Spanish National Men Team victory for the UEFA Nations League's title against Croatia, Mr. Rubiales can be seen also kissing effusively the male players…” He then adds that media coverage of the incident was misleading, contesting that “the majority of the news media outlets have decided to, intentionally or negligently, omit from their reports other evidence publicly available and to misinterpret the videos available.”
Regarding the Genitals Incident, Rubiales claimed that grabbing his genitals was directed at former Spain Head Coach Jorge Vilda as an expression of gratitude. He explained that “[i]n Spain that gesture, even if we understand it is not usually done in formal meetings, it is a very popular way to say, ‘you are the best.’”
He attempted to discredit the witness testimonies, calling the FA President’s individual statement “blatantly false” and the NZF President’s individual statement “odd.”
In his final remarks, Rubiales called the investigation a news trial, implying the media circus around his actions were distracting FIFA from making a correct decision. He ended by stating that:
“Coercion is defined as persuading someone to do something by using force or threats. In this case, we are still waiting for someone to prove how anyone threatened [Hermoso] or persuaded her to do something by force. Asking someone to do something, or even insisting on it, is not coercion.”
The Committee’s Findings
The FIFA Disciplinary Committee found that not only did all four Incidents occur, but that Rubiales’ “overall behavior during and after the Match was considered improper, indecent and/or offensive by most (if not all) objective observers, such behavior being vindictively condemned by various international organizations and/or individuals.”
The committee found that while the Carrying Incident and Peck Incident “did not bear the same seriousness as the first two incidents (i.e. the Genitals Incident and the Kiss Incident), the Committee contended that they nonetheless constituted behaviors incompatible with the principles of [Rule 13.]”
The committee had strong words on the Genitals Incident:
“Committee was convinced that this gesture belongs to a different period/era in Spain, probably from decades ago, but cannot be associated with the current cultural context of this country, i.e. that of the 21st century. (…) Committee was left unconvinced by the explanations provided and pointed out that the “crotch-grab” is a taunting gesture almost exclusively done by males, and, as such, widely perceived as misogynist and sexist.”
Because this gesture was indecent and directly tarnished the sport and FIFA, they ruled that the Genitals Incident broke Rule 13.
Lastly, the committee’s position on the Kiss Incident can be best summed up with this quote:
“…the Committee was comfortably satisfied that [Rubiales’] attitude in relation to the Kiss Incident (that is to say, the Kiss in itself, but also all subsequent events as highlighted supra) undoubtedly tarnished the image of football and/or FIFA, bringing both into disrepute. Indeed, the Committee held that, from the very first moment it initiated the Kiss to the moment the present decision has been rendered, [Rubiales] repeatedly and continuously violated the basic rules of decent conduct, thereby infringing [Rule 13.]”
Interestingly, the committee notes that Rule 13 doesn’t actually provide guidelines for sanctions in the event it’s broken. Because of this, the committee had to use Rule 6 instead to determine the appropriate sanction. They note specifically that “Committee was particularly concerned by the attitude and actions of [Rubiales]…[he] does not appear to have expressed any genuine remorse in relation to the incidents and/or his behavior and never apologized for his behavior during and after the Match.”
When considering sanctions, the committee found these statements to be true and said it kept the following in mind:
[Rubiales] failed to present any apology to [Hermoso], neither publicly nor at least in private;
[Rubiales] persisted in his denial (publicly and within the context of the present proceedings), maintaining (against [Hermoso’s] unambiguous) statement that the Kiss was consensual;
[Rubiales] publicly insulted "all those who saw this incident differently" than “a kiss between two friends celebrating something," naming them "idiots and stupid people";
[Rubiales] made use of his position as president of the RFEF in an aggressive and completely inappropriate manner to:
Publish - in the name of the RFEF - (i) statements using quotes of [Hermoso] that were not written or authorized by her, and (ii) an official statement (which was subsequently deleted) threatening [her] (amongst others) of legal actions;
Use the general assembly of the RFEF as a forum to defend himself and distort the reality of the Kiss in his favor;
[Rubiales] and/or his entourage pressured and/or (emotionally) coerced [Hermoso] on numerous occasions in order to make her speak and take position in his favor;
[Rubiales] has been subject to criminal proceedings in Spain as a result of the Kiss.
The committee handed Rubiales a three-year ban from all soccer activities. They wrote that they were “tempted” to impose harsher sanctions because of the seriousness of his actions, but settled on three years because they were “satisfied that the imposition of such a measure would serve the necessary deterrent effect.”
Whether the ban will have its intended effect remains to be seen. Regardless of its efficacy, the report serves as an affirmation of Hermoso’s allegations and a repudiation of the RFEF. While having a three-year ban sets a questionable precedent, the committee’s decision underlines the need for stronger guidelines in sexual harassment cases.