Luis Rubiales, the suspended head of the Spanish football federation, finally folded under immense pressure on Sunday and resigned three weeks after his kiss of a player on the lips overshadowed Spain’s first-ever Women’s World Cup title.
Rubiales had been at the centre of a controversy that had gone far beyond Spain’s borders and the world of sport after he kissed Jenni Hermoso during the globally televised awards ceremony after Spain beat England to win the title.
The player said the kiss was without her consent.
In an interview with British television journalist Piers Morgan, the former president explained how he came to the decision to resign.
"I have spoken to my father and daughters. They know it's not a question about me. Some friends told me: 'Luis, now you have to focus on your dignity and get on with your life. If you don't, you're probably going to hurt the people you love and the sport you love,'" Rubiales said.
"I've had to put up with a lot in these three weeks (...) In this situation it's the smartest and best thing I can do," he added.
He had already been temporarily suspended from his job by FIFA for his conduct at the final and, after football’s world body opened a disciplinary case, remained defiant and hostile toward those who criticized him.
Sports journalist Rafa Fernández told Euronews that FIFA's decision marked a turning point in Rubiales' future.
"If it hadn't happened, Rubiales would have remained president, but this decision has blown him out of the water."
In a statement released after the interview, Rubiales elaborated on this idea: "After the swift suspension carried out by FIFA and the rest of the proceedings opened against me, it is clear that I will not be able to return to my position".
But the most serious threat yet to Rubiales came on Friday, when Spanish state prosecutors accused him of sexual assault and coercion after the kiss, two days after Hermoso formally accused him of sexual assault.
Once the most powerful man in Spanish soccer, Rubiales insisted the kiss was consensual and done in a “moment of jubilation.” He said it was like one “I could give one of my daughters.”
Rubiales said in his resignation statement: "I believe in the truth and I will do everything in my power to make it prevail".
"My daughters, my family and the people who love me have suffered the effects of excessive persecution, as well as many falsehoods, but it is also true that in the streets, more and more every day, the truth prevails," he said.
Hermoso has always denied that the kiss was consensual. The player also said she and her family were pressured by the federation to show their support for Rubiales. Fans, players, and politicians publicly disagreed with Rubiales and saw it as a sexist act and an abuse of authority.
Rubiales said he had also resigned as UEFA vice president due to the reputational danger the scandal could inflict on Spain’s joint bid to host the 2030 men’s World Cup along with Portugal, Morocco and possibly Ukraine.
UEFA has taken no action against Rubiales.
Many are wondering who will succeed the former president. Following his resignation, and in accordance with the Real Federación's statutes, the board will form an executive committee and call for elections.
The person elected will have to complete Rubiales' term, which means he can only serve until September 2024, when Rubiales' four-year term expires, having been appointed in September 2020.
A "witch hunt" by "false feminists"
Two weeks ago, Rubiales had been expected to step down amid the immediate wave of criticism for his conduct at the final, which included a lewd gesture of grabbing his crotch, with Spain’s Queen Letizia and her teenage daughter, Princess Sofía, nearby.
Instead, in a defiant speech before his federation’s general assembly, he refused to go quietly and claimed he was the victim of a “witch hunt” by “false feminists.”
After Rubiales accused Hermoso of lying about what he said was a kiss she had consented to, Spain’s women's world champions, along with dozens of players, refused to play again for their country until there were changes in the federation’s leadership. The firing of the women’s team coach Jorge Vilda was not enough by itself for them to come back.