"Unacceptable": Luis Rubiales, Jorge Vilda, and the Corruption at the Heart of the RFEF
Updated: Sep 10
September 10, 2023 - Spanish football federation President Luis Rubiales announced he will be resigning after nonconsensually kissing Spanish women’s player Jenni Hermoso after the World Cup final. The decision comes three weeks after his initial refusal to resign, and one week after Hermoso filed a complaint for sexual assault.
August 20, 2023 - In the aftermath of Spain’s World Cup victory, Royal Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales kisses midfielder Jennifer Hermoso on the lips. She said on an Instagram Live afterward when asked about the incident: “...yeah, I did not enjoy that.” It’s later revealed that as the whistle blew in the final, he celebrated the victory by grabbing his crotch.
Also during the celebration, Spain’s controversial Head Coach Jorge Vilda appeared to grab the breast of a female staff member. This begs the question: if these are the types of actions Rubiales and Vilda are comfortable doing in public, what things do they do behind closed doors? And why hasn’t anyone stopped them?
It turns out that both of these men have been insulating themselves from any serious forms of discipline for years. Their actions during the victory celebration are just the latest in a pattern of alleged troubling behaviors.
Jorge Vilda himself is only part of the problem in Spain. More accurately, the vice grip he allegedly holds over the team, and his deep roots within the Spanish federation, means he will not be leaving his position unless he wants to.
Vilda’s father Ángel is the head of the RFEF’s women’s division and oversaw the group that promoted him to his current role as senior head coach. Jorge even got his start as a coach by assisting his father when the elder Vilda was the coach of the Spain women’s U-19s.
Spanish newspaper La Voz de Galicia reported in 2022 that Vilda had an extreme amount of control over players’ lives in his camp. Most infamously, he required players to have their doors unlocked until midnight so he could personally see if they were present before going to bed. He also required players to tell him where they went and who they were with during their free time and inspected any shopping bags players may have acquired.
According to the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, Vilda’s control of the team is similar to his control of the RFEF. Because of his father’s status within the RFEF, it appears the younger Vilda has complete authority to do what he wants. Allegedly, he even controls the headlines about the senior women’s team that appear on the RFEF’s website.
2022 - Las 15. The 15 Spanish players who dared to speak up about the unacceptable treatment from Vilda. This group included Patri Guijarro, Mapi León, Claudia Pina, Aitana Bonmatí, Mariona Caldentey, and Sandra Paños from FC Barcelona. Ainhoa Moraza and Lola Gallardo from Atlético Madrid. Nerea Eizaguirre and Amaiur Sarriegi from Real Sociedad. Lucía García and Ona Battle, who were with Manchester United up until a recent transfer back to FC Barcelona. Leila Ouahabi and Laia Aleixandri from Manchester City, and Andrea Pereira from Club América also joined in. Alexia Putellas, Irene Paredes, and Jenni Hermoso showed support but did not send an email to the RFEF.
September 2023 - The RFEF announced the dismissal of Vilda as head coach and sporting director, weeks after the World Cup final, and over a year after the 'Las 15' spoke up about the unacceptable treatment from Vilda.
However, some players did not send an email. Most of these players were from Real Madrid. This is because Vilda’s unbreakable power seems to be rooted in the control of one woman: Ana Rossell. A brief primer on Rossell: she played soccer professionally in Spain until becoming the president of Tacón FC in 2015. The club was absorbed by Real Madrid in 2020, becoming the official women’s arm of the organization.
Rossell too was absorbed by Madrid. She became the Sporting Director for the women’s team she once led. It is worth mentioning that in the three years, Rossell has been with Madrid, she has faced their Ethics Commission three times: two times due to allegations from youth players and one time from an employee allegation.
It appears that the allegations were generally consistent - Rossell created a power imbalance and used it to create an unsafe working environment. Rossell has not been found guilty of any of these allegations, but Madrid made the unprecedented decision to let a young player (who made allegations against Rossell) move to rivals Barcelona. That decision speaks louder than anything Madrid (or Rossell) could say.
The controversial Sporting Director also maintains a management group, AR10, that represents women’s soccer players. Spain midfielder Jennifer Hermoso used to be represented by Rossell through this group. Knowing this fact, it’s easy to guess how Hermoso was quickly welcomed back into Vilda’s group after she publicly supported the 15.
Putting all of the pieces about Rossell together, her ambition is clear. In fact, she allegedly stated it outright: “If you want to go to the National Team, you have to go to Real Madrid first.” Between Vilda’s control of the Spanish team and her control over Madrid’s players, it’s no wonder why Madrid's players have stayed quiet until now.
All of the hostile workplace behavior and corruption allegedly perpetrated by Vilda and Rossell would typically be dealt with by the RFEF. However, RFEF President Luis Rubiales has not only enabled this behavior but publicly backed it. Look no further for proof of this support than Vilda’s glowing comments about Rubiales ahead of the World Cup semi-final against Sweden:
Since we are talking about the past, I want to highlight the support of Luis Rubiales. He reacted courageously and bet on my coaching staff and me. We have to congratulate him for the management.
August 21, 2023 - Rubiales initially dismissed any criticism of his actions towards Hermoso, saying that the kiss was “a peck between two friends celebrating something.” Critics of his behavior were “idiots and stupid people.”
Spain’s acting Culture and Sports Minister Miquel Iceta said that Rubiales’ actions were “unacceptable” and that he should explain himself and apologize. Spanish Minister for Equality Irene Montero tweeted:
Only after these figures spoke out did Rubiales offer an apology in video form:
"I made a mistake, for sure, I have to accept it. In a moment of such emotion, without any bad intention or bad faith, what happened, happened, in a very spontaneous way. [There was] no bad faith from either side.
"Here we saw it as something natural and normal. But on the outside it has caused a stir, because people have felt hurt by it, so I have to apologize; there's no alternative. I have to learn from this and understand that a president of an institution as important as the federation -- above all in ceremonies and that kind of thing -- should be more careful.
"There are also some things which I said where, within this context, I said it seemed like idiocy. On the inside, nobody had seen it as important, but on the outside they had. So I want to apologize to those people. I'm sure they'll have their reasons. I'm also saddened, because this is the biggest success in our history in women's football, the second World Cup that we've won, and this has affected the celebration.
"We have to give the merit to these women and the team led by Jorge Vilda, we have to celebrate it in style."
The RFEF subsequently released a statement on behalf of Hermoso to the media, reading in part:
“It was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the immense joy that winning a World Cup brings. The president and I have a great relationship, his behavior with all of us has been outstanding and it was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude."
August 22, 2023 - It was revealed by sports news publication Relevo that this statement was not in fact written by Hermoso, but by the RFEF communications department.
The publication also broke that Rubiales begged Hermoso to appear in the video apology with him, but she refused. After Hermoso’s refusal, it was Vilda’s turn to beg on behalf of his boss. He allegedly approached Hermoso’s family three times to get Hermoso to appear alongside Rubiales. Each time he failed.
Spain’s president Pedro Sánchez has stated that “what we saw [towards Hermoso] was an unacceptable gesture. Apologies have not been enough. They are not suitable. Mr. Rubiales has to keep taking steps.” Second deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz has gone further, demanding Rubiales’ resignation because “a woman has been harassed and assaulted.”
August 23, 2023 - Liga F, the top-flight women’s league in Spain, released a blistering statement calling for Rubiales’ resignation. It reads in part:
One of the greatest feats in the history of Spanish sport was sullied by the embarrassing behavior of the highest representative of Spanish football who, once again, and guided by his continuous and habitual desire for leadership, proved not to be up to the task he holds.
[...]This is an unprecedented international embarrassment for the Spain Brand, for Spanish sport and for world women's football. When the world should have its eyes on our soccer players, the president managed to get the world's eyes to focus on his “manliness”.
[...] It is time to take a step forward. The opposite would be a humiliation for all women and the biggest defeat of Spanish sport and our country.
The men in the crowd clapped. Many women did not.
Rubiales also publicly offered Vilda a contract extension, raving, “You deserve it, Jorge. We’ve gone through a lot, they’ve wanted to do to you the same thing that now they’re doing to me.”
In the aftermath of Rubiales’ disgraceful speech, 81 past and current Spain players (including all 23 from the World Cup) released a joint statement:
Hermoso also released a statement reaffirming that she did not consent to Rubiales’ kiss and was coerced into making a statement to protect him by the RFEF:
Women’s players and teams from around the world have voiced their support, from Alex Morgan to Kosovare Asllani. Some Spanish men’s players also voiced their support, including David De Gea, Iker Casillas, Hector Bellerin, and Borja Iglesias. Iglesias has stated that he will refuse a call-up to the men’s national team until Rubiales is gone.
September 1, 2023 - The Administrative Sports Court of Spain (TAD) ruled that Rubiales' actions in the World Cup final were "serious," but not "very serious." Because they aren't classified as "very serious," the Spanish government cannot suspend Rubiales as they originally intended. However, TAD's ruling could suspend him from soccer for up to two years.
Rubiales is currently serving the remainder of a 90-day suspension from FIFA. This does not include any sentence from the FIFA Disciplinary Committee (an independent body) against him, which could hypothetically ban him from the sport for life. As of writing, UEFA has not pursued any action against Rubiales, who since 2019 has been a vice president of the organization.
So what now?
Because of the 90-day FIFA suspension against Rubiales, Pedro Rocha is currently the Acting President of the RFEF. He was personally appointed by Rubiales ahead of the August 25 RFEF Emergency Assembly. Although he (along with promient members of the RFEF) made a statement demanding Rubiales' immediate resignation, it will take more than that to truly demonstrate the RFEF's commitment to change.
Removing Rubiales isn’t removing the larger problems of corruption and institutional misogyny at the heart of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. Vilda and Rossell must also be held accountable for their actions, as should every person and system who enabled the three of them.
On September 5, Jorge Vilda was removed from all duties as the sporting director and head coach. In place of Vilda, the RFEF has named Montse Tome as the new head coach. While this is the first sign that change is coming, things can not fully be better until systemic change is worked through.
Instead of ending this piece focusing on the corrupt, we instead want to acknowledge the incredibly brave Spain players who sacrificed their legacies to create change. Mapi, Patri, Claudia, Vero, Lola, Aihnoa and many, many more, thank you.