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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Jennifer Hermoso excluded from Spain’s game roster

Jennifer Hermoso filed a criminal complaint of sexual assault against Spain’s former soccer chief, Luis Rubiales, after he kissed her on the lips during the World Cup medals ceremony in Sydney.

By Rachel Chaundler

Spain unveiled its roster earlier this week for the first two matches of the women’s national team since the team’s World Cup win — and a postgame kiss that plunged women’s soccer into turmoil.

Many of the players chosen to play for Spain, however, have made it clear over the past few weeks that they are unwilling to do so unless management changes are made at the soccer federation. But only eight of the World Cup winners were left off Monday’s roster, including three who are injured, one who has retired — and Jennifer Hermoso, the star player who was forcibly kissed by the man who was Spain’s top soccer executive at the time.

“We are with Jenni. We believe it’s the best way to protect her,” said the new coach, Montse Tomé, at a Royal Spanish Football Federation news conference, when she was asked why Hermoso had not been chosen to play in the UEFA Nations League, which is the qualifier for European teams in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

This month, Hermoso filed a criminal complaint of sexual assault against the former soccer chief, Luis Rubiales, after he kissed her during the World Cup medals ceremony in Sydney.

The decision by Tomé to exclude Hermoso comes amid a high-stakes standoff between Spain’s star players and the national soccer federation.

In August, after its World Cup win, the team, including the players who were on Tomé’s roster Monday, demanded changes to management and threatened not to play if changes were not made.

On Friday, Hermoso and 20 of the 23 winning team members signed a joint statement with other Spanish players saying “it is time to fight” and reinstating their demands for a restructuring of “the leadership positions of the Royal Spanish Football Federation” to guarantee a “safe place where women are respected.” But they did not explicitly threaten not to play.

By Monday night, with their demands as yet unmet, it was not clear if all the players on Tomé’s roster would agree to play or if they would boycott the matches, against Sweden and Switzerland that begin Friday, in support of Hermoso.

If they decide not to play, they could face consequences, including fines or temporary bans, according to the National Sports Council.

“I trust they are professional world champions and they love their profession,” Tomé said, adding that she had talked with the players over the past few days.

In a statement posted on social media Monday night, the women’s players’ union, Futpro, said that the joint statement players issued Friday made clear, “with no room for misinterpretation, our firm wishes not to be called up, for reasons that are justified.”

“We regret that our federation puts us in a situation that we would never have wanted,” Monday’s statement said.

Minutes later, AFE, Spain’s chief players’ union, also issued a statement, declaring its “astonishment at the lack of dialogue by the Royal Spanish Football Association regarding the majority position of the players who have been called up based on arguments that should be respected.”

Ivana Andrés, one of the captains of the World Cup team, is suffering from a sports injury. She is one of the champions who are not on Tomé’s roster. In a televised interview Monday evening, Andrés said, “The most important thing is that we want to play.”

But “we want them to treat us with respect,” she added, referring to the federation.

Then, the president of Spain’s state-run National Sports Council, Víctor Francos, weighed in, saying on a late-night radio show Monday night that “if the players don’t show up, the government must apply the law,” in reference to the sanctions the players could face. Francos added: “Tomorrow at 8:30 a.m., I will call some of the players and speak with them.”

Some Spaniards also expressed dismay at the roster, including a well-known politician. “It’s not a call-up. It’s a threat,” said Gabriel Rufián, a member of Parliament with a pro-Catalan independence party.

A Swiss player, Ana-Maria Crnogorčević, who plays for the Spanish team Atlético de Madrid, also shared her disbelief on social media. “This is insane,” she said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Both the players and the federation have a lot to lose if Tomé cannot rally together a team in time for Friday’s match in Sweden.

Sports commentator Guillem Balagué explained that Spain will jeopardize its Olympic ticket if the players boycott the match against Sweden. Only “the two finalists of the Nations League will, together with the French squad, be in Paris 2024,” Balagué said.

Over the past month, the federation has taken some measures to address the concerns of its star players. They urged Rubiales to resign, which he did. He appeared in court Friday in connection with the sexual assault allegations filed by Hermoso. A restraining order was subsequently issued against him, forbidding contact with Hermoso. Jorge Vilda, the coach of the national team, was fired this month. He had been accused last year of controlling and sexist behavior by team members.

On Monday morning, the federation said in a statement that it guarantees a “safe environment for the players” and is committed to making changes within the organization. But it did not specify details of the changes it intends to make or a time frame.

Though Tomé has replaced Vilda, becoming the first woman to hold the top job in Spain, her appointment is not without controversy. Tomé came under criticism when she participated in a standing ovation for Rubiales on Aug. 25, following a defiant speech in which he accused Hermoso of initiating the kiss and railed against “false feminism.”

The statement issued by the players Friday called for “zero tolerance” toward members of the federation who have “had, incited, hidden or applauded attitudes against the dignity of women.”

“I shouldn’t have done it,” Tomé said of her participation Monday.

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