Within minutes of winning a historic World Cup, Spain put in jeopardy their candidacy for hosting another. After an extraordinary three weeks, in which the former president of the country’s football federation, Luis Rubiales, inflicted huge damage on the reputation of the sport, his resignation, late on Sunday, has been greeted with wide relief and framed as a necessary step in bringing the 2030 men’s World Cup to Europe and North Africa.
Rubiales had until the weekend stubbornly defied calls from Spain’s government, from public demonstrations and from the sport’s major stakeholders, to step down; he had already been suspended by Fifa pending disciplinary proceedings against him following his conduct during and immediately after Spain’s women won the World Cup in Sydney in late August.
He kissed the striker Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the medal presentation ceremony, a non-consensual kiss, according to Hermoso, who said she and her family were put under pressure by Rubiales to then show support for him after the incident.
Having insisted, at an emergency meeting of the federation, RFEF, last month that “I will not resign,” while identifying and rounding on the “fake feminism” behind the broad condemnation of his actions, Rubiales eventually decided: “It is clear I will not be able to continue in the job.” In a letter posted online, Rubiales cited the potential impact of his staying in post on Spain’s joint bid, with Morocco and Portugal, to stage the 2030 men’s World Cup.
“I don’t want Spanish football to be harmed by all this disproportionate campaign and, above all, I am taking this decision because I feel sure that my departure will help lead to stability, and allow Europe and Africa to stay united in the 2030 dream, bringing the greatest event in the world to our country.”
For Morocco, suffering the devastating impact of earthquake, hosting the men’s World Cup in seven years time is viewed as an important nation-building project to follow up the on-field successes of its men’s and women’s teams – the first Arab sides to reach, respectively, a men’s World Cup semi-final and the knockout rounds of a women’s World Cup – in the last 12 months.
Uefa and Caf, the governing bodies of football in Europe and Africa are understood to have made known their concerns at Rubiales remaining, pending his 90-day Fifa suspension, at the forefront of the 2030 bid, and that their firm advice was decisive in his resignation.
Fifa will reach a decision next year on who hosts the 2030 event, with competing interest from a joint South American candidacy including Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay.
The Spanish government, who had until the episodes in Sydney, been broadly supportive of Rubiales as a key figure in the 2030 bid, welcomed his resignation.
Victor Francos, president of the National Sports Council, called it a “good decision”. The interim president of the RFEF, Pedro Rocha is now expected to announce elections, in which representatives of football associations across Spain will vote for a new president early in 2024.
The World Cup bid will be a key priority for the new regime, as will prioritising the good governance of women’s football. Spain’s world champions achieved their successes in Australia last month against a backdrop of long-term conflict with the governing body.
Fifteen players had resigned from the national team in 2022, only three returning to the national squad for the World Cup. The victorious head coach, Jorge Vilda, backed by Rubiales, had been a divisive figure. Vilda was sacked last week, having very publicly supported his boss in spite of the now ex-RFEF president’s Fifa suspension.
The Spain men’s manager, Luis de la Fuente, has also faced calls for his resignation, after he applauded Rubiales’s earlier posture of refusing to step down.
De la Fuente is the fifth national men’s coach to have served in the job during Rubiales’s five controversial years as RFEF president, a period which began with the sacking of Julen Lopetegui as manager on the eve of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Lopetegui had agreed to take over at Real Madrid immediately after the tournament, a deal Rubiales took as an act of betrayal and so he was replaced by Fernando Hierro, a former Spain captain with scant coaching experience. Spain’s men were eliminated at the last 16 stage.
Under Luis Enrique, they fell at the same hurdle at Qatar 2022, and although Spain won the Uefa Nations League this year, the senior men's’ team have not in the last decade enjoyed the same success as the women’s team and the country’s age-group sides, serial achievers in junior international tournaments in the women’s and men’s game.
Spain will travel to next year’s Paris Olympic Games as silver-medallists in men’s football. Under a new coach, Montse Tome, the women’s team will next week embark on qualifying, through the Nations League, for the Games, hopeful a page has been turned.