Even after Spain’s players refused to return to their national team, World Cup stars including Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmatí received call-ups Monday for upcoming Nations League matches.
Of the 23 players selected to the roster, 15 were present at the 2023 World Cup and 21 signed a statement just last week demanding that the Spanish football federation (RFEF) make further changes before they return. Per Spanish newspaper El Periódico, the players found out about their call-ups through the televised roster announcement.
If the 21 players refuse to play for the national team, they could face serious consequences. In Spain, the rejection of a national team call-up is punishable by a financial fine of up to €30,000, by a ban of up to 15 years, as well as other possible sanctions.
In the aftermath of Spain’s World Cup win, the national team and federation have been embroiled in controversy. Luis Rubiales resigned as RFEF president as a result of the backlash against his forced kiss of star player Jenni Hermoso at the World Cup final, and controversial head coach Jorge Vilda has been fired. But those changes “are not enough for the players to feel safe, where women are respected, where there is support for women’s football and where we can maximize our potential,” they said in a statement Friday.
The dispute between the players and their federation stretches back to before the World Cup. In October 2022, 15 players refused to play for the national team, and they were left off subsequent rosters, including the World Cup team. Several of “Las 15” were included on the most recent roster, including Mapi Léon and Patri Guijarro.
“The players of the Spanish team have, at all times, been open to dialogue, seeking to convey clear and well-argued reasons that we believe are necessary to be able to carry out our work at the highest level with the respect we deserve,” the players wrote last week. “The specified changes to the RFEF are based on zero tolerance for those people who, from a position within the RFEF, have had, incited, hidden or applauded attitudes that go against the dignity of women.”
The players have called for more systemic changes in addition to the departures of Jorge Vilda and Luis Rubiales.
“We firmly believe that strong changes are required in leadership positions in the RFEF and specifically, in the area of women’s football,” the players wrote. “We want to end this statement by expressing that the players of the Spanish team are professionals, and what fills us most with pride is wearing the shirt of our national team and leading our country to the highest positions.”
Hours before Monday’s roster announcement, the Spanish federation released a statement, urging players to join them in structural change. According to Spanish outlet Relevo, national team players had not responded to RFEF’s ultimatum ahead of the announcement because they felt as though their previous statement was “clear and firm.”
“The Federation itself is aware of the need to make structural changes and has recently begun to materialize them,” the RFEF said. “Therefore, players are urged to join this change led by the Federation, understanding that the transformations that must continue must be solid and fair.”
Notably, Hermoso was not one of the 23 players selected, with head coach Montse Tomé saying Monday that the team respects her stance and stand behind her “in everything.”
“The first thing to say is that we are with Jenni in everything,” she said. “We have believed that the best way to protect her in this call is like this. We count on Jenni.”