Luis Rubiales kissed Lucy Bronze “seemingly forcefully” and “cupped the face” of her England teammate Laura Coombs after the Women’s World Cup final in August, the Football Association chair has claimed.
The incendiary claims were made in a submission by Debbie Hewitt to a Fifa disciplinary committee investigating Rubiales’s behaviour after Spain’s World Cup triumph. In response, Rubiales accused Hewitt of “absolutely disgusting” behaviour and “suggesting [he is] some form of creep”. The committee ultimately suspended Rubiales from football activity for three years.
The claims have emerged after the committee published the written reasons for banning Rubiales. The former president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) became the object of international opprobrium after he was seen celebrating Spain’s win against England by grabbing and thrusting his crotch, hauling a female player on to his shoulders and, most notoriously, kissing Jenni Hermoso on the mouth after the forward received her winner’s medal.
Hewitt and the president of New Zealand Football, Johanna Wood, wrote submissions to the disciplinary committee after they had witnessed Rubiales’s behaviour and wanted to give “first-hand observations on [its] impact”. Hewitt describes a series of inappropriate actions involving Rubiales, and substantiates Hermoso’s version of events in what the committee describes as “the kiss incident”.
Hewitt writes that Hermoso was not the only person subject to inappropriate attentions. According to the committee’s account of her submission, Hewitt observed Rubiales’s behaviour while standing next to him in the medal presentation line. He “shook the hand of every England player and touched a few on the arm” as they walked past, but then “‘cupped and stroked’ the face of the player Laura Coombs, which [Hewitt] thought was slightly odd and then he seemingly forcefully kissed the English player Lucy Bronze on her face”.
In his response to this submission, Rubiales said it was “astonishing to read … the amount of prejudice that Ms Hewitt showed”, and claimed Hewitt had “hugged several players even after clearly noticing that they were extending their hands to receive a handshake”. The “hypocrisy is blatant”, Rubiales said, adding: “The way she presents a gentle gesture of comfort to all the rivals … suggesting that [he is] some sort of creep, is absolutely disgusting.”
Rubiales said he had stroked Coombs’s face in an attempt to comfort her as “Ms Coombs was injured during the final, had to receive stitches and was wearing a bandage in her head”. Coombs, the Manchester City midfielder, was an unused substitute during the final. Rubiales also accused Hewitt of “blatantly” lying in her account of the kiss involving Hermoso.
The 35-page document published by the disciplinary committee paints a damning picture of the events of the final, its aftermath, and Rubiales’s behaviour throughout. The committee notes that the 46-year-old is yet to apologise to Hermoso and continues to insist that the player had given consent even though “the Kiss could not be seen as having been consensual from the perspective of a reasonable and objective observer”.
Rubiales did accept that he should not have kissed Hermoso, nor carried Athenea del Castillo, nor grabbed his crotch at the end of the match, but argued that “at no point” had Del Castillo asked to be put down and the gesture had been as a tribute to Jorge Vilda, Spain’s head coach.
The committee ruled that even if his version of events had been accurate, Rubiales’s behaviour was unbefitting of his role as RFEF president and had brought the game into disrepute at a “global level”.
The committee said it “was tempted to impose more severe sanctions in view of the seriousness and gravity of the incidents at stake as well as of the profound negative impact that the respondent’s actions had on the image of Fifa, women’s football and women’s sport in general”. Ultimately, however, it determined that a three‑year suspension would “serve the necessary deterrent effect”.