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Spanish Kiss Scandal Sparks Legal Probe, Mom’s Hunger Strike

(Bloomberg) -- Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales was dragged deeper into scandal as prosecutors opened a probe, and his mother locked herself in a church and went on a hunger strike in his defense.

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Rubiales is at the center of a widening controversy after he held Jennifer Hermoso’s head in his hands and kissed her on the lips as she and other players received medals for winning the World Cup. The twists and turns have overshadowed the victory in the tournament in Australia and shone a light on gender inequality in the country.

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Opening a fresh legal dimension, the prosecutor’s office of Spain’s National High Court agreed to launch an inquiry after criminal complaints were filed by third parties, a press officer for the court said on Monday. Officials will also contact Hermoso as a possible victim of sexual aggression and offer her the chance to testify.

The saga took a bizarre turn when Rubiales’s mother locked herself in a church in the family’s hometown of Motril in the southern region of Andalusia. She said she will go on hunger strike until Hermoso retracts her statement that the kiss wasn’t consensual. About 50 locals gathered Monday for a march and chanted “Rubiales is right” and “Jenni tell the truth.”

“His mother, who is a person of strong faith, has taken refuge in God and has gone on a hunger strike,” Vanesa Ruiz Bejar, a cousin of Rubiales, said in a press conference broadcast on national TV. “His family is suffering a lot for him. What is happening does not seem fair to us.”

A demonstration supporting Hermoso and calling for Rubiales to step down was held in central Madrid, with several hundred people chanting slogans including “It’s not a peck, it’s an attack,” local media reported.

Read More: A Kiss Turns a Moment of Triumph Into an Ugly Spectacle in Spain

Yolanda Diaz, a deputy prime minister who represents the most progressive wing of the government, took part in the gathering. She was quoted as saying by newspaper El Pais that the attitude shown by Rubiales demonstrated “an obstinate machismo that doesn’t belong in a democratic society.”

The next step may come later on Monday. A meeting of Spain’s sports court to discuss a complaint filed by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government for “grave infractions” dragged into the late evening. If accepted, the administration will be able to suspend Rubiales as soon as this week.

The country’s football association is also meeting in Madrid to discuss its options.

In a defiant statement on Friday, Rubiales said he had asked the player if he could give her a peck. Hermoso rejected his explanation as “categorically false.” During the game, the 46-year-old was also seen grabbing his crotch as he celebrated a goal near Spain’s Queen Letizia and one of her daughters.

While addressing the mostly-male assembly of the football association, Rubiales surprised friends and foes by repeating five times that he would not resign, as widely expected. Many members showed support by clapping during his speech.

Rubiales was suspended by governing body FIFA on Saturday. Jorge Vilda, the coach of world champion women’s team, and Luis de la Fuente, his counterpart on the men’s team, subsequently condemned the behavior.

A global movement has emerged to support Hermoso and her teammates, who have refused to play until Rubiales is removed. Outrage in social media has coalesced around the phrase “se acabo” — which means “it’s over” — referring both to Rubiales and the broader issue of sexual harassment of women.

Spain has strict legislation on sexual consent, outlined in a highly controversial law known as “Only Yes Means Yes.”

(Updates with detail on demonstration starting in sixth paragraph)

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