News that Luis Rubiales had resigned, three weeks after his unsolicited kiss and defiant refusal to step down sparked outrage across Spain and around the world, was welcomed as a win for feminism even as questions swirled about his decision to make the announcement in an English-language interview.
Late on Sunday evening, the head of the Spanish football association said that after speaking with his family and friends he had come to the conclusion that he had no choice but to resign after he grabbed the footballer Jenni Hermoso by the head, pulled her towards him and planted a kiss on her lips during the medal ceremony at the World Cup in Sydney last month.
“They say to me, ‘Luis, now you have to focus on your dignity and to continue your life’,” Rubiales told Piers Morgan in a clip posted online before an interview due to air on Tuesday.
Members of Spain’s caretaker government were swift to characterise the announcement as a victory for feminism. “The transformation and improvement of our lives is inevitable,” the acting labour minister and second deputy vice-president, Yolanda Díaz, wrote on social media. “We stand with you Jenni, and with all women.”
The acting equality minister, Irene Montero, who was among the first to describe the kiss as a “form of sexual violence”, responded with the phrase “Se Acabó”, or it’s over, hinting at how the weeks-long ordeal had snowballed into a #MeToo moment for Spanish football.
Spanish media seized on the fact that Rubiales had chosen to announce the news in an English-language interview with a journalist who is largely unknown in Spain.
On Monday Spanish news sites were filled with explanatory articles seeking to introduce the country to Piers Morgan. “Has women’s day already ended? A look at Piers Morgan, the machista journalist that Rubiales gave the exclusive on his resignation,” wrote the rightwing newspaper La Razón.
On broadcaster Cadena Ser, radio personality Àngels Barceló noted: “We can say that Rubiales was being interviewed by Rubiales himself: A journalist known for his sexist comments … it’s not surprising that Rubiales was comfortable in the conversation.”
Joan Vehils condemned Rubiales over the decision, writing on news site Diario Sport: “Rubiales preferred fame and language that is not his own, rather than speaking clearly in Spain. It’s another piece of evidence showing that he doesn’t get it. At all.”
Late on Sunday, Morgan posted another clip from the interview, in which Rubiales said his decision came after the speech in which he hit out at “false feminism” and vowed to stay on as football chief.
“The situation changed so much from the moment I said ‘I’m not going to resign’ and now,” he told Morgan. “It’s changed so, so much in three weeks.”
Hours after the fiery speech, Fifa announced that it would provisionally suspend Rubiales. Soon after, those who had heartily applauded the 46-year-old as he repeated “I will not resign” five times began issuing statements distancing themselves from his behaviour.
In a statement released late on Sunday, Rubiales decried the “disproportional campaign” against him and suggested that “the powers that be would get in the way of my return”.
Weeks after the unsolicited kiss was caught on camera and images emerged showing him grabbing his crotch as La Roja won the World Cup, Rubiales said he would continue to defend himself. “I have faith in the truth and I will do everything in my power so that it prevails,” he wrote.
Vehils, the journalist, described the declarations as “further proof that he lives in an unreal world”, noting that even in resigning, Rubiales had continued to make mistakes.
“The damage he has done to Spain’s image has been incalculable,” he added. “Right now Spanish football and, in particular, women’s football has won. However, I fear that the Rubiales show is not over.”