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Report: FIFA considered stricter sanctions for Spain’s Luis Rubiales

(Maja Hitij/FIFA via Getty Images)

A FIFA report made public Wednesday on former Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales showed that the soccer governing body considered “more severe sanctions” than the three-year ban it imposed on Rubiales in October.

The 35-page report also detailed more incidents of Rubiales’ misconduct, which included England FA chair Debbie Hewitt detailing “inappropriate” conduct with English players during the 2023 Women’s World Cup medal ceremony.

Hewitt testified to FIFA that during the medal ceremony, the Spanish president “cupped and stroked the face” of England’s Laura Coombs. He also appeared to “seemingly forcefully” kiss Lucy Bronze on the face.

She also noted that during the medal ceremony she was next to Rubiales, who she said was “unpleasant and unnecessarily aggressive” toward FIFA workers.

In response, Rubiales denied wrongdoing and accused Hewitt of “absolutely disgusting” behavior and “suggesting [he is] some form of creep.”

He attempted to defend himself, noting that he had stroked Coombs’s face as a show of comfort after she “was injured during the final, had to receive stitches and was wearing a bandage on her head.” Coombs did not play in the final, going as an unused substitute.

Johanna Wood, who is the president of New Zealand Football, also wrote submissions to the disciplinary committee upon witnessing Rubiales’s behavior. Both noted that they wanted to give “first-hand observations on [its] impact.”

Rubiales was issued a three-year ban from soccer by FIFA following incidents at the World Cup that included him kissing Spain player Jenni Hermoso on the lips, allegedly without consent, and earlier grabbing his crotch in the VIP area after the final, next to the Queen of Spain and her 16-year-old daughter. He was found to have behaved “in a manner contrary to the principles enshrined under Article 13 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.”

Following the incident, Rubiales was faced with international outcry. While he initially refused to resign as president of the RFEF, he later issued his resignation.

“The Committee wished to stress that 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,” FIFA said in the report.

The report went on to say that the disciplinary committee was satisfied with the three year ban, only with “strong hesitations.” The committee said that it could not ignore the impact of Rubiales’ actions on Hermoso, both her mental health and her career. They also said that Rubiales utilized his position to put out statements using quotes that were not written or authorized by Hermoso.

The committee found that there hadn’t been a prior agreement between Hermoso and Rubiales about a kiss, and that Hermoso’s behavior prior to the incident did not imply consent.

But even if the kiss had been consensual, the committee wrote, it would have been inappropriate.

“The Committee found it essential to emphasize that such a kiss – emanating from the president of an association towards a player (of the opposite sex) of one of the national team under his leadership and responsibility – was completely unacceptable,” they wrote.

“This, regardless of whether or not it would have been consensual. As a matter of fact, by representing an entire country – that had just won the most prestigious women’s tournament – and by holding the highest position within the association, its president is expected to behave with the highest level of composure and discernment. In other words, it is expected to adopt an irreproachable attitude, far from that displayed during the award ceremony at stake.”

Rubiales accepted that he should not have kissed Hermoso, nor carried Athenea del Castillo or grabbed his crotch. Still, he argued that “at no point” did Del Castillo ask to be put down. He also defended the crotch gesture as a tribute to Spain’s then-head coach Jorge Vilda.