BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — One day before Spain's new women's coach announces her first squad, the players who won the Women's World Cup have yet to say if they are ready to come back to the team after rebelling against their disgraced former federation president.
Spain's women have had little chance to celebrate their greatest soccer achievement because Luis Rubiales caused an uproar when he kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent at the awards ceremony last month in Sydney.
The 23 players, plus more than 50 others, 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.
In the whirlwind of events since, the federation has been in upheaval. Rubiales was first suspended by soccer governing body FIFA, then his interim replacement fired the women's national team coach that was unpopular with his players, and Rubiales himself eventually resigned under immense pressure.
Many expected that the firing of coach Jorge Vilda and the exit of Rubiales would clear the path for the return of the players. But so far, with hours ticking down to the squad announcement, the best the federation can say is that talks are still ongoing.
The players said through their FUTRPO union on Aug. 25 that they would not return to play for Spain “if the present leadership continues” and asked for “real structural changes that help the national team continue to grow.”
It is not known if the players want more personnel changes as well as material improvements.
“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," Spain midfielder Alexia Putellas, a two-time Ballon d’Or winner, said Wednesday. “We need consensus, courage and leadership from the institutions, please. This is why we will not stop here.”
Last year, 15 players similarly rebelled, asking for more "professional" coaching from Vilda. The federation firmly backed Vilda, and only three relented and were eventually included in this year's Women's World Cup squad.
Quietly, however, the player revolt did appear to lead to some changes for the better. 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, with time guaranteed for the mothers to spend time with their children.
And after this second rebellion by the entire team, and with Rubiales — Vilda’s biggest supporter — on his way out, the federation this time sided with the players. In Vilda's place, the federation named his former assistant, Monste Tomé, to become the first female coach of Spain’s women’s team.
Rafael del Amo, the head of women’s soccer at the federation, said this week that he is hopeful the players will come back. He said the improved conditions the players enjoyed at the Women's World Cup will remain in place and that he felt bridges had been mended with the removal of Vilda and the exit of Rubiales.
FUTPRO union president Amanda Gutiérrez, whose union is representing the players, said Wednesday that the situation is “complicated.”
“It is true that the federation has listened … and that they are making structural changes," Gutiérrez told Cadena SER radio. "Now it is the players’ turn to determine if those structural changes are sufficient or if there need to be more. I think it is a difficult decision for them, both for the players and for the people in the federation who are trying to resolve the conflict.”
It is not clear what Tomé will do if there is no deal between the players and the federation before she announces her list in Madrid on Friday. In theory, a player is obliged to answer the call by a national team. She could also call up others players to take their places.
Spain is set to play at No. 1-ranked Sweden in the Women’s Nations League on Sept. 22. Spain, ranked second in the world, beat Sweden 2-1 in the Women's World Cup semifinals before edging England 1-0 in the final.
The squad announcement will come on the same day that Rubiales testifies in front of a Spanish judge investigating accusations by state prosecutors that he sexually assaulted Hermoso with his kiss. He says the kiss was consentual. Hermoso has denied that.
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