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Spain players end strike after reaching agreement with national team

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Spain's Jenni Hermoso lifts the World Cup trophy with her teammates. (James Whitehead/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Almost all of the players called up to the Spanish women’s national team for its September training camp agreed Wednesday to end their strike after reaching an agreement with their national federation.

More than seven hours of meetings between the players and the Spanish football federation (RFEF) ended with the RFEF saying it would make “immediate and profound” structural changes. Those meetings ended around 5 a.m. local time in Spain.

Of the 23 players selected for the September roster, 21 of them had signed a statement last week demanding action from the federation before they would return to the team. But they still received national team call-ups, and if they refused, they could have faced fines of up to €30,000 and a ban of their federation license for up to 15 years, among other possible sanctions, though officials later said they would not have imposed any sanctions.

While most of the players agreed to play for the national team in the upcoming Nations League matches after the meetings with RFEF, two — Mapi León and Patri Guijarro — decided to leave training camp. Both players were part of “Las 15,” the group of players who refused to play for the national team starting last October and missed the 2023 World Cup.

“They are working on changes. It’s a different situation for us,” Guijarro said. “It’s tough, it’s difficult. Being here, after the way everything has happened, mentally we were not ready to stay. That’s the explanation.”

While the dispute between the players and their federation stretches back to before the World Cup, Spain’s World Cup win on Aug. 20 deepened the divide. 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. Yet 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,” players said in a statement Friday.

Victor Francos, president of Spain’s national sports council, helped mediate the meetings.

“A joint commission will be created between RFEF, CSD and players to follow up on the agreements, which will be signed tomorrow,” Francos told reporters. “The players have expressed their concern about the need for profound changes in the RFEF, which has committed to making these changes immediately.”

Amanda Gutierrez, president of global players union FUTPRO, said that the meetings are a start of a “long road” for the players and the federation.

“The players see it as a rapprochement of positions. It is the beginning of a long road ahead of us,” Gutierrez told reporters. “Once again, they have shown themselves to be coherent and the vast majority have decided to stay for the sake of this agreement.”

One of the first measures taken is to remove “female” from the women’s national team’s official brand. From this point forward, both the men’s and women’s teams will be known as the “Spanish national football team.”

“Beyond it being a symbolic step, we want it to be a change of concept, and the recognition that football is football, no matter who plays it,” RFEF president Pedro Rocha said.

Spain is set to make its debut in the Nations League against Sweden on Friday, with another match set for Sept. 26 against Switzerland.