MADRID (Reuters) -The Spanish soccer federation president apologised on Monday after an unsolicited kiss he planted on player Jenni Hermoso’s lips during celebrations of the country’s Women’s World Cup victory sparked outrage in Spain.
The incident happened as federation chief Luis Rubiales handed the Spanish team gold medals after they beat England 1-0 in the final on Sunday.
“Surely I was wrong, I have to admit,” Rubiales said in a video statement sent by the federation. “It was without bad faith at a time of maximum effusiveness.”
Hermoso told teammates afterwards in the locker room that she “didn’t like it,” according to video footage posted on Instagram and YouTube by El Mundo newspaper and other media outlets.
She later downplayed the incident in a statement sent to Spanish news agency EFE by the federation.
“It was a mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous prompted by the huge joy of winning a World Cup,” the statement said. “The ‘presi’ and I have a great relationship, his behaviour with all of us has always been 10 (out of 10) and this was a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.”
Post-game video footage also depicts Rubiales kissing other players on the cheek or embracing them when handing out the medals.
Gender issues are a powerful topic in Spain. The Socialist-led government has presided over a raft of legal reforms around gender change, abortion and sex work, but a loophole in its law around sexual consent let rapists out of jail, resulting in a significant electoral loss by Montero’s far-left Podemos party, in the government coalition, in July’s election.
Asked again about the incident on Spain’s COPE Radio station, Hermoso said: “I wish they created (controversy) involving someone else, I’m a world champion and that’s what matters.”
Several government ministers and media commentators criticised the gesture.
Acting Culture and Sports Minister Miquel Iceta said on RNE radio the kiss was “unacceptable” and asked Rubiales to provide an explanation and to apologise.
A non-consensual kiss is “a kind of sex violence all women suffer daily, which was until now invisible, and which we cannot normalise”, acting Gender Equality Minister Irene Montero said on social messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Acting Social Rights Minister Ione Belarra, who belongs to Montero’s party, asked “if they do that with all of Spain watching, what might they do privately?”
An opinion column in Spain’s top-selling El Pais newspaper on Monday morning was titled: “Jenni didn’t like the kiss and we didn’t either” – describing it as “an intrusion, an invasion of privacy, an aggression”.
Rubiales had initially minimized the outrage, calling critics “idiots”.
“The kiss with Jenni? There are idiots everywhere. When two people have a moment of affection that means nothing more, you can’t listen to idiocy. We are the champions, that’s it,” he said, according to Radio Marca.
But in his apology later on Monday, Rubiales included those who called him out.
“I also want to apologize to these persons,” he said.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro and Fernando Kallas; Editing by Aislinn Laing, Alison Williams and Bernadette Baum)
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