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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Coach of Spain’s women’s soccer team is fired

Jorge Vilda, the head coach of the Spanish women’s soccer team, after the team’s victory in the World Cup final in Australia last month.

By Rachel Chaundler

The coach of the Spanish national soccer team that won the Women’s World Cup trophy last month was ousted Tuesday by the country’s soccer federation, after months of complaints from players who accused him of outdated methods and controlling behavior.

The firing of the coach, Jorge Vilda, comes as the fate of one of his most ardent supporters, Spain’s soccer federation chief, Luis Rubiales, hangs in the balance. Rubiales forcibly kissed a member of the national team at a medals ceremony in Australia, setting off a national controversy in Spain and highlighting sexism in the sport.

The federation said in a statement that as one of the “first measures of renewal” announced by the interim president, Pedro Rocha, it had decided “to do without the services” of Vilda as sporting director and national women’s coach, a role which he accepted in 2015.

The federation also thanked Vilda for his work with the national team and the success during his tenure, crowned by the World Cup victory. It said it was highlighting “his impeccable personal and sporting behavior,” which “was a key piece in the notable growth of Spanish women’s football.”

The federation has called on Rubiales to resign, and Spanish prosecutors have opened an investigation into whether he could be charged with committing an act of sexual aggression. Players have said they would not take the field for the national team unless changes were made on a managerial level. And FIFA, soccer’s governing body, has suspended him for 90 days.

Vilda, who was hired in 2015 after one of his predecessors was ousted amid accusations of sexism, had long been the subject of complaints from players regarding unequal pay and what they called his controlling behavior, as well as a general culture of sexism. Last year, 15 star Spanish players staged a protest, refusing to play on the national team unless Vilda was fired.

That rebellion drew a stern rebuke from the Spanish soccer federation, which backed Vilda. Not only would it not fire him, the federation said, but the players must apologize for their actions before they would be allowed back on the team. The standoff ended with most of the mutinous players returning to the field.

Rubiales backed Vilda at the time. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País in October 2022, Rubiales connected the success of the women’s team to Vilda’s coaching skills and dismissed the accusations of ill treatment. In a speech last month, he doubled down in his support for the coach, vowing to increase his salary to 500,000 euros ($543,000) after the World Cup win, Spain’s first in the women’s tournament.

Rubiales has been at the center of a maelstrom over sexism in Spanish women’s soccer since he grabbed and kissed Jennifer Hermoso, a member of the national team, during the medals ceremony after Spain beat England, 1-0, in the final in Sydney.

After the forced kiss, players again issued an ultimatum. The entire women’s team and dozens of other players signed a statement saying they would not play for Spain “if the current managers continue.” Alexia Putellas, who is widely recognized as one of the best players in the world, coined the hashtag #seacabo, or “it’s over.” Some people protested in the streets of Spain. On Monday evening, the Spanish men’s team captain, Álvaro Morata, flanked by his teammates, issued a joint statement rejecting “the unacceptable behavior of Mr. Rubiales.”

Some commentators have described the episode as a watershed moment in Spain’s #MeToo movement, highlighting a divide between the country’s traditions of machismo and more recent progressivism that has put Spain in the European vanguard on issues of feminism and equality.

Rubiales has denied doing anything wrong, arguing that he has been a victim of “social assassination” and even suggesting that Hermoso had initiated the encounter, which she has strenuously denied. His mother went on a three-day hunger strike in a church in his hometown, Motril, in southern Spain, demanding that Hermoso “tell the truth.”

Hermoso, for her part, has said that “at no time did I consent to the kiss that he gave me.”

As the scandal mushroomed, the federation, known as the Royal Spanish Football Federation, called an emergency meeting. Vilda was one of the many men in the room who gave Rubiales a standing ovation.

Later, however, Vilda tried to distance himself from Rubiales, saying that he regretted his boss’s “inappropriate conduct.” The Spanish men’s coach, Luis de la Fuente, also apologized for applauding. But the damage was done.

The firing of Vilda comes on the same day as the Spanish government published the awarding of a Gold Medal for Sporting Merit of the Royal Order to the entire women’s team, including Vilda.

But with a match against Sweden set for Sept. 22, and with none of Spain’s star players apparently willing to compete, the soccer federation cut Vilda loose.

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