Jenni Hermoso, players criticize Spanish football federation’s ‘manipulation’ as ‘open war’ continues after Rubiales

By | September 19, 2023

FILE - Spain's Jennifer Hermoso reacts after missing a scoring opportunity during the Women's World Cup Group C soccer match between Japan and Spain in Wellington, New Zealand, on July 31, 2023. Hermoso, who said she did not having agreed to the kiss of the former federation President Luis Rubiales during the World Cup awards ceremony last month, said in a statement on Tuesday, September 19, 2023 that the federation's decision to call up almost half of the 39 players who declared that they would not play for the national team as a protest was “irrefutable proof” that “nothing has changed”.  (AP Photo/John Cowpland, file)
Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso during the World Cup. (AP Photo/John Cowpland, file)

The complicated dispute between the Spanish football federation and the winning players of the Women’s World Cup reignited on Monday with a diabolical ploy that Jenni Hermoso called “manipulation” – and which demonstrated, even with the disappearance of Luis Rubiales and the sacking of Jorge Vilda, who “nothing has changed”. Hermoso said.

All but two players, citing insufficient changes, had asked last Friday not to be called up for the upcoming matches against Sweden and Switzerland. On Monday, the now infamous Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) selected most of them anyway.

The players were reportedly shocked. Hermoso said in a statement that they were all “certain that this is yet another divisive and manipulative strategy to intimidate and threaten us with legal repercussions and economic sanctions.”

Victor Francos, a government sports official, said that if players refused to report for duty on the national team, they could be disciplined under Spanish law, which says they could be suspended for multiple years.

So a first wave of players showed up at a Madrid hotel on Tuesday. The first to arrive, goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez, was hounded by cameras and journalists and asked if she was happy to be called up.

“No,” he said.

Most of the 23 players selected posted a declaration Monday night reiterating their previous calls for change. Privately and publicly, in the weeks since Rubiales kissed Hermoso during the World Cup awards ceremony, reckoning with decades of misogyny and injustice in Spanish football, players have called for “real structural changes that help the [women’s national] the team continues to grow.”

Last Friday, even with a new coach and RFEF president in place, they said: “The changes made are not enough where players feel safe, where women are respected, where there is support for women’s football and where we can maximize our potential.”

Their statement, and corresponding promise to refuse call-ups, mirrors the original outbreak of this dispute last September, when 15 players pushed for better working conditions, saying the environment around the national team had “significantly” affected their physical and emotional health. and sent emails to the federation asking not to be selected until the environment improved.

The federation’s surprising response Monday also mirrored its rallying cry last September. At the time, he publicized the players’ private emails, allegedly mischaracterizing them to win over public opinion and calling the players’ resignation a “very serious infraction” that could disqualify them from national team selection by 2-5 years.

On Monday he was less explicit. Indeed, in a statement accompanying the announcement of the squad, the RFEF recognized “the need to make structural changes” and said it was “aligned” with the players and the Spanish club.

But the decision to select attacking players sent a very different message. It triggered the “open war”, the blared the front page of the Spanish newspaper AS.

“The wound gets bigger,” Marca wrote.

“We regret once again that our federation has put us in a situation we never wanted,” the players said in their joint statement.

External criticism of the federation rapidly increased. “Everything keeps getting worse [RFEF],” Legend of the Spanish men’s national team Iker Casillas tweeted.

“This is crazy,” wrote Ana-Maria Crnogorčević, Swiss star and teammate of many Spanish players at Barcelona and now Atletico Madrid. “How can you threaten your own player[s] like this.”

Hermoso’s individual statement went further. She had been left off the roster and interim coach Montse Tomé said her omission was “to protect her”. Hermoso replied: “Protect me from what? And from whom?”

“We searched for weeks, perhaps months, for protection from the RFEF which never arrived. The people who now ask us for trust are the same as those who today [selected] the list of players who have asked NOT to be called up.”

He said it is “even more irrefutable proof” that nothing has changed at the RFEF.

Tomé, a former Vilda assistant for five years, said in a press conference on Monday that she had spoken to the players and no one had told her that they did not want to be called up. But Revelo reported that this was a lie. The players wrote that since their request on Friday not to be selected, “nothing different has been conveyed to any member of the RFEF.”

Hermoso concluded: “I want to demonstrate once again my full support to my colleagues who were caught by surprise and forced to react in the face of another unfortunate situation caused by those who continue to make decisions with the RFEF. This is why we are struggling and why we’re doing it this way.”

With legal threats looming, however, half a dozen players showed up at the team hotel in Madrid on Tuesday. They then traveled to Valencia, where the rest of the squad, including the FC Barcelona contingent, will join them ahead of the Nations League match against Sweden on Friday.

It is the team’s first match since the World Cup triumph. Under normal circumstances, in any country that has a competent football association, this would be an occasion to celebrate.

Instead, the Real Madrid players began their journey to Valencia with bitter expressions on their faces.

Star midfielder Alexia Putellas, also apparently on her way to retirement, was followed by journalists through a Barcelona airport, microphones bobbing up and down in front of her unyielding face.

“I won’t say anything,” Putellas told them, but then responded with two Spanish words when asked how she felt: “Well, bad.”

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