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‘Nothing has changed’: Spanish players’ demands for reform at federation not being met

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Some of Spain’s World Cup-winning players started reporting to training camp Tuesday despite not wanting to be called up for the national team while fighting for changes in the soccer federation.

Local media showed some of the players arriving at the hotel where the team will stay in Madrid, with their arrival coming a day after new coach Montse Tome ignored their decision not to play until their demands for reform at the federation were met.

The players had said in a statement on Monday that they were caught by surprise by the call-up and did not plan to end their boycott, but those who don’t show up risk breaking a Spanish sports law that requires athletes to answer the call of national teams unless there are circumstances that impede them from playing, such as an injury.

It was the latest embarrassing chapter in Spanish soccer in a crisis ignited by former federation president Luis Rubiales kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips after Spain won the Women’s World Cup last month.

Hermoso, who said she did not consent to the kiss during the awards ceremony, accused the federation of trying to intimidate the players by picking them for the national team even though they asked not to be called up.

She said in a statement early Tuesday the federation’s decision to call up nearly half of the 39 players who said they would not play for the national team as a protest was “irrefutable proof” that “nothing has changed.”

The players had made it clear that they wouldn’t come back until their demands for significant change and new leadership in the federation were met, but Tome on Tuesday picked 15 of the players who helped Spain win its first Women’s World Cup last month.

Tome left Hermoso off the list “as a way to protect her,” she said.

“Protect me from what?” Hermoso said. “A claim was made stating that the environment within the federation would be safe for my colleagues to rejoin, yet at the same press conference it was announced that they were not calling me as a means to protect me.”

Tome said she talked to Hermoso and to the other players, and said she was confident that they would all report to training camp on Tuesday.

Government expected to intervene

The squad announcement had been originally planned for Friday but was postponed because no agreement had been reached with the players.

Spain’s acting minister of culture and sport, Miquel Iceta, said Tuesday that the government would try to help find a solution for the impasse.

“We ask the federation to fix the inadequacies of this anomalous call-up and to change the federative structures so that it becomes a space of security, competitiveness and professionalism to which the players and all Spaniards are entitled to,” Iceta told local media. “What you can’t do is to continue committing injustices and harming players who have given their best and earned a world title for the first time in history.”

Former Spanish football federation president leaves Spain's National High Court on Sept. 15, 2023 in Madrid, Spain.
Former Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales, left, pictured leaving Spain’s National High Court on Friday. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

The government said it was talking to the players, and the president of the country’s sports council — the government’s highest sports authority — was expected to meet with them sometime on Tuesday.

On Monday, the federation released a statement in which it publicly reiterated to the players its commitment to structural changes.

“The people who now ask us to trust them are the same ones who disclosed the list of players who have asked NOT to be called up,” Hermoso said. “The players are certain that this is yet another strategy of division and manipulation to intimidate and threaten us with legal repercussions and economic sanctions.”

The players said Monday they would study the possible legal consequences of not reporting to the training camp, but said they believed the federation could not force them to join the team. They argued that the call-up was not made in accordance with current FIFA regulations, and some of the players, especially those abroad, would not be able to show up in time.

“I want to once again show my full support to my colleagues who have been caught by surprise and forced to react to another unfortunate situation caused by the people who continue to make decisions within [the federation],” Hermoso said. “This is why we are fighting and why we are doing it in this way.”

Among the players’ demands was for interim president Pedro Rocha also to resign, and for the women’s team staff to be overhauled.

Last year, 15 players rebelled against former coach Jorge Vilda asking for a more professional environment. Tome, an assistant to Vilda at the World Cup, included in her first list some of the players who rebelled.

Spain will play Nations League games against Sweden on Friday and Switzerland on Sept. 26. The team planned to practice in Valencia instead of Madrid before making the trip to Sweden.

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