A dispute between the Spanish women’s soccer team and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) appears to have reached a breakthrough after the two parties, along with the government’s High Council of Sport (CSD), came to a series of agreements.
Earlier this week, 20 players named to the national team squad reiterated their refusal to play in two upcoming UEFA Women’s Nations League fixtures, including against Sweden on Friday.
However, 21 of the 23 players selected in the squad for the upcoming games have now agreed to play and will travel to Sweden, according to a statement from CSD President Víctor Francos.
Two players, Barcelona Femení stars Mapi León and Patricia Guijarro, have asked to leave the squad, saying that their situation is “different than for the rest of our colleagues.”
Francos told reporters in the early hours of Wednesday that a “very solid agreement” had been reached between all parties and promised immediate changes in Spanish soccer regarding “the policies on gender equality, advancing on equal pay, advancing on the equity of the quality of infrastructure for sport and, in this case, women’s football.”
He added that the players will not face any sanctions having initially refused to play in the two upcoming fixtures.
“The parties … reached a point where what could have been a disaster won’t be and what could have been bad news looks like it won’t be,” said Francos.
A Mixed Commission featuring representatives for the players, RFEF and CSD will also be created to implement further changes in the future.
“In that committee, we’ve agreed on some powers that cover all of the points that [the players] have spent so much time demanding, like the changes in the women’s football body, the strategic plan of women’s football and the rest of the changes we’ve been talking about these days,” Amanda Gutiérrez, president of players’ union FUTPRO, told reporters on Wednesday.
Montse Tomé, who replaced Jorge Vilda as head coach of the women’s national team in the wake of the Rubiales controversy, is set to remain in her position having met with the players privately, according to Rafael del Amo, the head of women’s football at RFEF.
Asked about the apparent misleading statements from Tomé at her Monday press conference regarding Hermoso’s absence from the squad to “protect” the player, del Amo told reporters: “I think at this moment we have to protect her from the pressure that can arise. In the end, she is a player we trust fully. We believe it to be this way and we must be respected.”
Tomé had selected the squad for the upcoming games against Sweden and Switzerland, despite the players stating their “firm will to not be called up for motives which are justified.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday about leaving the squad alongside Guijarro, León said: “It’s true that the situation for Patri and for me is different than for the rest of our colleagues.
“We know that these aren’t the ways or forms to come back … This is a process. We’re happy because it’s also true that there are changes happening.
“We’ve reached another port. Little by little, changes are being made and in this we’re totally supporting our colleagues as we’ve been doing from outside during all this time.”
For her part, Guijarro said: “They’re working on those changes and we’re with our colleagues, but yes, it’s true they haven’t been made yet, but they’re working on it.
“It’s quite difficult and hard to be here, and with how everything happened, mentally, you’re just not in a place to be able to be here.”
Both León and Guijarro are part of a group of players dubbed ‘Las 15 (The 15)’ which have been in conflict with RFEF since over a year ago and the vast majority were left out of the World Cup squad in July and August.
How we got here
Wednesday’s announcement is the latest development in a long-running saga between the Spanish women’s team players, who won a first Women’s World Cup title last month, and RFEF.
The tension between the two parties intensified after Luis Rubiales, the former RFEF president, gave an unwanted kiss to Spanish player Jennifer Hermoso during the World Cup final medal ceremony in Sydney.
The players’ dissatisfaction with the federation dates back over a year when 15 members of the senior women’s squad (‘Las 15’), sent personally signed letters to RFEF saying that they would no longer play for the national team unless there were wholesale changes made throughout the coaching staff.
Of the 15 players who signed the letters, only three were in Spain’s World Cup squad: Mariona Caldentey, Aitana Bonmatí and Ona Batlle. That trio was included in Tomé’s squad announced on Monday, along with León and Guijarro.
Despite those off-field struggles, a young Spanish side produced a superb run at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, defeating England in the final to lift a first title.
The achievement was subsequently overshadowed by Rubiales’ actions during the medal ceremony and the fallout which followed, culminating in the ex-soccer boss resigning as RFEF president on September 11.
However, now that Vilda and Rubiales have left their positions, RFEF hopes to kick-start a new chapter in women’s soccer.
On Monday before announcing the squad list, it released a statement underlining its commitment to enforce changes in the organization.
“It’s evident that the Federation, society and the very players are aligned with this same objective: the renewal and beginning of a new era where football is the great winner of all of this process,” the statement said.