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Spain soccer coach fired amid backlash of sport's president kissing player after World Cup

After dismissing Jorge Vilda, the Royal Spanish Football Federation named the first woman to coach the women's soccer league.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation dismissed sports director and women’s national coach Jorge Vilda two weeks after the team's World Cup win, and named his replacement.

Jorge Vilda
Jorge Vilda looks on during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Qualifier on September 02, 2022 in Madrid , Spain.Manuel Queimadelos / Getty Images

"The RFEF appreciates his work at the helm of the National Team and in his duties as head of sports for the women’s teams, as well as the successes achieved during his time crowned with the recent achievement of the World Cup," the RFEF said in a statement on Sept. 5.

Subsequently, the federation also announced that Montse Tomé would be replacing Vilda as head coach, making her the first woman to lead the national women's team.

Montse Tomé
Montse Tomé on July 04, 2022 in Marlow, England.Pat Elmont / UEFA via Getty Images

After serving as an assistant coach since 2018, Tomé will make her new leadership debut this month in the Spain's Nations League game Sept. 22 against Sweden.

The news comes as head of the Spanish soccer federation Luis Rubiales faces possible prosecution for kissing star player Jenni Hermoso on the lips following Spain's World Cup victory.

FIFA has suspended Rubiales for 90 days and on Sept. 5, the association issued an apology, saying "the damage caused to Spanish football, to Spanish sport, to Spanish society and to all the values of football and sport has been enormous."

Despite growing pressure for the president to resign, the Rubiales' family is defending him against the backlash to the point where his mother has locked herself in a church and gone on a hunger strike, according to his cousin.

Spanish prosecutors opened a criminal investigation on Aug. 29 into whether the kiss was an act of sexual assault.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation withdrew its support of Rubiales after an emergency meeting on Monday night after having initially backed him when FIFA announced it was investigating the kiss.

The Spanish soccer federation demanded that he "immediately resign" because of “the latest events and the unacceptable behaviors that have seriously damaged the image of Spanish football," according to a news release in Spanish.

Here's what to know about the controversy.

When did the kiss happen?

The incident occurred after Spain defeated England 1-0 on Aug. 20 at Stadium Australia in Sydney to win its first women's World Cup title in history.

During the awards ceremony following the game, Rubiales was distributing gold medals to the team members when he was seen grabbing Hermoso's head with two hands and kissing her on the mouth.

What has Jenni Hermoso said about the kiss?

Hermoso was heard telling teammates afterward in the locker room she “didn’t like it” in a video posted on Instagram and YouTube by El Mundo newspaper and other media outlets.

She then initially downplayed it in a statement, saying it was a "mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous" and "a natural expression of affection and gratitude."

However, she now says she was pressured into making that statement and sees the incident completely differently.

"At no time did I consent to the kiss that he gave me," she said.

She added in a statement that she “felt vulnerable and the victim of aggression, an impulsive, sexist act which was out of place and with no consent on my behalf," according to ESPN.

Hermoso, 33, is a revered star who has the most goals in the history of Spain's national team as well as her professional team in Barcelona.

What has Luis Rubiales said about the kiss?

Rubiales initially apologized the following day, but later in the week denied that he did anything wrong.

He also told an emergency general assembly of the Spanish soccer federation that he was a victim of a hunt led by “false feminists” and that the kiss was “mutual and with consent.”

Rubiales also made it sound like Hermoso initiated the contact.

"The moment Jenni showed up, it was her who lifted me from the floor, who held my hips, my legs, I can't remember so clearly," he said at a news conference. "She lifted me up, we almost fell down, and when she put me back on the floor we hugged."

Rubiales' family has rushed to support him. His cousin, Vanesa Ruiz Béjar, spoke to a group of reporters on the street about the incident.

"His mother, who is a very religious person, has taken refuge in God and has gone on hunger strike," she said. "She does not want to leave the church. His family is suffering a lot for him. We don’t think it’s fair what is happening."

Rubiales has refused calls to resign.

What has the Spanish football association said about the kiss?

Royal Spanish Football Association President Pedro Rocha issued a sweeping public apology Sept. 5, 2023 for "the totally unacceptable behavior of its highest representative of the institution during the final and in the subsequent moments, which did not respond in any way to the values of Spanish society as a whole."

"The damage caused to Spanish football, to Spanish sport, to Spanish society and to all the values of football and sport has been enormous," the statement read. "The RFEF wants to transmit, to the whole of society and to the whole of the football world, its utmost regret for what happened, which has tarnished our selection, to our football and to our society. We feel deeply saddened by the damage caused; and therefore, from this RFEF, we must apologize most sincerely and acquire a firm and absolute that events like these can never happen again."

After emphasizing FIFA suspending Rubiales in reaction to the kiss, Rocha explained that the RFEF must go through "documentary and administrative support" to reach a resolution.

"The performance of Mr. Rubiales, both at that moment and in the hours that followed, is not acceptable under any circumstances; and, for this reason, the RFEF immediately withdrew from its website all those inappropriate and meaningless communications, that did not value what was achieved by the National Team and did not take into account the statements by the player about these facts," Rocha said, calling Spain's win "one of the proudest moments in the history of the Spanish Federation."

"Mr. Rubiales’ actions do not represent the values defended by the Spanish Federation, nor the values of Spanish society as a whole; and his performance must be attributed solely and exclusively to him, since he is the only one responsible for his actions before society, before sports bodies and, if applicable, before Justice."

Rocha further explained that the decision to kiss Hermoso was his own and not a reflection of the RFEF, adding that they are "especially saddened and ashamed by the pain and anguish additional that this has caused."

"We regret that this incident has negatively impacted what should have been a continuous celebration of football, both of our national team as well as the 'Lionesses' of England, who were a rival truly extraordinary in an exciting final," the statement said.

What has been the fallout from the kiss?

The incident has rocked the reigning World Cup champs and sparked protests around Spain and signs of support for Hermoso across the sports world.

Spain’s sports minister has called the incident the #MeToo moment of Spanish soccer. All 23 members of the Spanish women’s team are refusing to play unless Rubiales resigns, and the entire coaching staff except for the head coach has quit in solidarity with Hermoso.

At a recent game, players for professional teams Atlético de Madrid and AC Milan unfurled a banner that read "We're with you, Jenni Hermoso" in Spanish, the BBC reported. Fans and players also wore wristbands and wrist tape with messages of support for Hermoso, a former Atlético player who was in attendance at the game.

Fans and players at other games in Spain's La Liga professional soccer league also showed signs of support for her. Men's players from Sevilla backed Hermoso with shirts reading "It's over" in reference to Rubiales ahead of their La Liga match, according to the BBC.