Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales has made the sensational claim that he's the victim of a "witch hunt" by "false feminists", as the fallout over the Women's World Cup kiss controversy rumbles on. Rubiales was condemned around the world after kissing World Cup winner Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the trophy presentation in Sydney - an incident she claims was not consensual.
Despite calls for his removal and protests around the country, Spain's football boss has refused to stand down, despite FIFA provisionally suspending him after launching an investigation into his conduct. A Spanish government legal panel has also opened a formal case against the disgraced football boss, who was also seen grabbing his crotch in a lewd victory gesture during the World Cup final against England.
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Spanish authorities are hoping to remove Rubiales but the panel's decision to consider Rubiales' acts as allegedly "serious" as opposed to "very serious" have dealt them a setback. If they had been deemed "very serious" charges, the government could have moved to declare him suspended from office until the panel rules on his case.
While the government cannot directly suspend Rubiales until his case before the panel is determined, officials will ask the legal panel to consider suspending him provisionally anyway. FIFA has already suspended Rubiales for 90 days while it carries out its own disciplinary case.
Spanish football president claims he's the victim
Speaking for the first time since he defiantly refused to quit, Rubiales has now made an eye-opening claim that he's the victim in the messy saga and has vowed to fight to clear his name. "I committed some evident mistakes, for which I sincerely repent," Rubiales said on Friday in Spain.
"I still have confidence in the independence of the bodies where this matter should be resolved, despite the political pressure and the interest-driven brutality of certain media outlets. Although information about this matter is being subjected to numerous manipulations, lies, and censorship, the truth has only one path, and that's why I repeat, I trust that justice will be served."
He insisted the kiss with Hermoso was "mutual, consensual and occurred in a moment of euphoria" - a claim the player firmly denies. The Spanish football president says he participated in FIFA's investigation as well as the federation's own internal probe.
"During all this time I have suffered an unprecedented lynching by news outlets and politicians that has completely marginalised me. Not just in Spain but internationally," Rubiales added on social media.
In a statement last week, Hermoso said she considered herself the victim of abuse of power and accused the federation of trying to pressure her into supporting Rubiales. The federation initially hit back by saying she was lying and it would take legal action against her. But following the FIFA suspension, the federation on Monday urged Rubiales to step down.
Spain men's coach sorry for 'inexcusable' act
It comes after the head coach of the Spanish men's football team asked for "forgiveness" over what he described as an "inexcusable human error" in relation to the scandal. Spain coach Luis de la Fuente was seen applauding Rubiales during last week's speech in which the football federation president said he would not resign.
"It was a situation that overwhelmed me," de la Fuente said. "I have not felt betrayed by Luis Rubiales, but I arrived thinking that it was going to be a resignation meeting and we were shocked when we saw that it was not this way.
"I don't have to resign, I have to ask for forgiveness. I made a mistake, an inexcusable human error. If I could go back I wouldn't commit that act again. I am on the side of equality and respect. We all have to improve in terms of equality and I am the first."
Meantime, support for Hermoso from Spanish and international officials, athletes and celebrities has been overwhelming in the wake of the ugly scandal. The Women's World Cup winner released a statement after the kiss controversy to declare that it was not consensual.
"I feel the need to report this incident because I believe no person, in any work, sports or social setting should be a victim of these types of non-consensual behaviours," she said. "I felt vulnerable and a victim of impulsive-driven, sexist, out-of-place act, without any consent on my part. Quite simply, I was not respected."
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