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Women's World Cup winners maintain boycott of Spain's national team, coach delays picking her squad

A press officer informs journalists of a delayed and finally suspended presentation of the Spain's new women's national team coach Montse Tome at the Spanish Federation headquarters in Las Rozas, just outside of Madrid, Spain, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Tome replaced Jorge Vilda less than three weeks after Spain won the Women's World Cup title and amid the controversy involving suspended federation president Luis Rubiales who has now resigned. (AP Photo/Paul White)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The new coach of Spain's women's team had to delay the announcement of her first squad Friday after nearly all of the country's World Cup-winning players maintained their boycott of the national team as part of their fight against sexism in soccer.

Spain coach Montse Tomé was set to announce her squad Friday. But 20 minutes before a scheduled news conference, the federation said it was postponed to a time to be determined.

The federation said the players had rejected their attempts to convince them to return to the team early Friday.

That leaves Tomé with the difficult decision of whether to still call up the players revolting, or select a completely different team for upcoming Nations League games against Sweden and Switzerland on Sept. 22 and 26. According to Spanish sports law, athletes are required to answer the call of its national teams unless there are circumstances that impede them from playing, such as an injury.

Spain’s women have had little chance to celebrate their greatest soccer achievement because Luis Rubiales, the now former president of the federation, caused an uproar when he kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips at the awards ceremony in Sydney, Australia on Aug. 20.

The team members, along with dozens of other players, responded to his subsequent refusal to step down in the days after the kiss by announcing that they would not play for their nation again until the federation underwent deep reforms and had new leadership.

The federation has been in upheaval since. Rubiales was first suspended by soccer governing body FIFA, then his interim replacement fired women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda, who was unpopular with players. Rubiales himself eventually resigned under immense pressure.

Many expected that the firing of Vilda and the exit of Rubiales would clear the path for the return of the players, but the players want more changes and, it appears, more officials and employees to be removed from the federation.

The players, through the FUTPRO players’ union, issued a statement Friday signed by 21 of its 23 World Cup winners, and 18 other players, explaining that “the changes that have been made are not sufficient.”

In the statement, the players said they want interim president Pedro Rocha, who was picked to succeed him by Rubiales, to also step down; the women’s team staff to be overhauled; and for personnel changes to also be made to the cabinet of the federation’s presidency and secretary general, the press relations and marketing department, and its integrity department charged with fighting discrimination.

“The charges we specified to the federation are based on showing zero tolerance toward people, who from their position in the federation, have practiced, incited, covered up or applauded attitudes that discriminate against women,” the players’ statement read.

They concluded their statement by saying “what most fills us with pride is wearing the shirt of the national team.”

Athenea del Castillo and Claudia Zornoza, both Real Madrid players, were the only two women from the World Cup team not to sign the statement.

Zornoza said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that she was retiring from international soccer at the age of 32.

“The moment has arrived for me to say goodbye and focus on my objectives with Real Madrid,” the midfielder said. “I desire with all my strength that for once and for all all the areas of the national team change so they can be at the same level as our achievements.”

Last year, 15 players similarly rebelled, asking for more “professional” coaching from Vilda. The federation — led by Rubiales — firmly backed Vilda, and only three of those players relented and were eventually included in the World Cup squad.

Quietly, however, the player revolt did appear to lead to some changes. The staff was increased to more than 60 members to accompany the team to Australia and New Zealand, the team flew on chartered flights, and players were given money to help bring their families along. Players with children were also given time to spend with them. 

With Rubiales — Vilda’s biggest supporter — out of the way, the federation has sided more fully with the players during this second rebellion. In Vilda’s place, the federation hired Tomé, his former assistant, as the first female coach of Spain’s women’s team.

Midfielder Alexia Putellas, a two-time Ballon d’Or winner, said Wednesday that the players want sweeping reform.

“We are asking for changes so no woman, inside or outside of soccer, should ever have to experience again situations of disparagement, disrespect, or abuse,” Alexia said. “We need consensus, courage and leadership from the institutions, please. This is why we will not stop here.”

The federation followed that with a statement saying that Rocha would lead “a process of transition” until the federation can hold elections.

But it also asked for time, in an apparent appeal to the players.

“A call has also been made in favour of dialogue and co-operation given the especially atypical scenario that the Spanish national team is going through,” the federation said. “The federation wants to reinforce its commitment with the world champions, whom the federation is enormously proud of."

Rocha added in his own words: “It is fundamental to guarantee the future of Spanish soccer that we carry out transformations in a progressive manner and recover the dignity and credibility lost after the incidents at the World Cup.

 “It is fundamental that our players, the media and society at large understand this and help us carry it out. A lot is at stake and we must be aware of that.”

Spain is part of a joint bid along with Portugal and Morocco — and possibly Ukraine — to host the 2030 men’s World Cup. The Spanish government has warned the federation that the Rubiales controversy could hurt the bid’s prospects.

The latest chaotic day for the federation coincided with Rubiales denying any wrongdoing to a judge investigating accusations by state prosecutors that the ex-official committed sexual assault and coercion against Hermoso. The judge placed a restraining order on Rubiales, prohibiting him from being within 200 metres of Hermoso.


AP soccer:

Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press

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