By George Ramsay, Patrick Sung and David Close, CNN
(CNN) — Players for the Spanish women’s national squad have reiterated their refusal to play in two upcoming fixtures without major changes to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) – the latest development amid the fallout of ex-soccer boss Luis Rubiales’ unwanted kiss on La Roja star Jennifer Hermoso.
Twenty players who had previously signed a letter on Friday objecting to playing for the national team until major concerns were addressed have been named to new head coach Montse Tomé’s 23-woman squad list.
Tomé, who replaced former manager Jorge Vilda as part of a shake-up at RFEF following Spain’s Women’s World Cup triumph, selected the players for matches against Sweden and Switzerland on September 22 and 26, despite the players stating their “firm will to not be called up for motives which are justified.”
In statements posted to social media on Monday, the players said: “[We] will study the possible legal consequences to which RFEF has exposed us by putting us on a list which we had asked not to be called up to due to reasons which were already explained publicly and in more detail to RFEF, and with that to take the best decision for our future and for our health.”
Despite their repeated refusal to play for Spain until substantial change is made in the federation, several players have reported for camp, including Athenea del Castillo, Misa Rodríguez, Olga Carmona and Teresa Abelleira – the latter three being signees of Friday’s released statement.
Asked by reporters in Madrid on Tuesday on her way into the squad hotel if the players were in agreement with Tomé’s squad list, goalkeeper Rodríguez said: “No.”
The players’ statement came just hours after Tomé told reporters that she was in touch with the players and had made arrangements to satisfy their concerns.
“The federation has worked to be able to talk to the players,” she said. “I’ve also worked with them. We’ve listened to them, we thought that we all were a part of this group, and the way is having good communication.”
Asked if any player had told her that they didn’t want to be called up to play in the upcoming UEFA Women’s Nations League matches, Tomé said they had not.
Meanwhile, Hermoso – who was not named in Tomé’s call up as the coaching staff wanted to “protect” her – released a statement on Monday saying that “nothing has changed” within the federation.
“We have been searching for weeks – months, even – for protection from the RFEF that never came,” said Hermoso, who was not named in the 23-player squad for the upcoming fixtures.
“The people who now ask us to trust them are the same ones who today disclosed the list of players who have asked NOT to be called up.
“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. It is yet more irrefutable proof that shows that even today, nothing has changed.”
Two-time Ballon d’Or Féminin winner Alexia Putellas, who has been a consistent presence in the player protests and statements, told reporters on Tuesday in Barcelona’s El Prat airport on her way to the squad’s camp that the players were “bad – how else would we be?”
When asked about the coaching staff saying they wanted to “protect” Hermoso amid the Rubiales unwanted kiss firestorm, Putellas retorted, “[Protect] from what? If everything’s good, right?”
Speaking on radio network Cadena SER on Monday, Víctor Francos, the president of the Spanish government’s High Council of Sport (CSD), confirmed that the players could face fines and sanctions according to the country’s Law of Sport for not representing the national team having been called up.
“I hope that the call-up was agreed to with [the players],” said Francos. “If they don’t show up, the government will do what it has to do, which is apply the law, which is unfortunate for me, I assure you, and it hurts me. I would never want to do what I would have to do in that moment.
“But the law is the law, the Law of Sport says what it says. International laws for national teams say what they say, but I still trust that there could be a path to a solution.
“I also tell you, I get the feeling [RFEF has] transferred to the government a problem that they had, saying, ‘Well, we’ll call them up and then the government will decide.’”
Francos said he was keen to meet the players later on Tuesday in Valencia, describing the current situation as “incomprehensible” and that the squad members he had spoken to seemed in a “bad” way.
“I took away a very negative impression in the worst way. I didn’t see anger, I didn’t see bad form. I saw sadness, exhaustion and that’s why I decided to go help them.
“I have the feeling that some of the people who are at the helm [in RFEF] in this crisis have not stopped to look at the forest. They’ve looked at the branch, but not the forest. I can’t be more clear.
“What cannot remain in the Federation are behaviors which make the players uncomfortable or scare them,” added Francos.
According to Spain’s Law of Sport and the RFEF Disciplinary Code, the players could receive a fine of between 3,006 euros ($3,213) and 30,051 euros ($32,125) and have their playing licenses suspended or confiscated for two to five years, which potentially could have implications for players’ club careers in addition to their international future.
Francos also said that he planned to speak with members of the squad on Tuesday because “there’s a point where the government should and has the obligation to intervene.” On Tuesday, a CSD spokesperson confirmed to CNN that it is holding conversations with the players throughout the day.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Spain’s culture and sports minister, Miquel Iceta, urged RFEF to resolve the dispute.
“The High Council of Sport will personally get involved in the search for a resolution,” he said.
“The Royal Spanish Football Federation has no right to deprive Spain of the women’s national team, even more so after having won the World Cup.
“As such, we call on the federation to correct all of the deficiencies of this anomalous squad call-up, to change its federative structures so that the federation can effectively be a space of safety, competitiveness and professionalism to which the players have a right to and Spanish citizenry has a right to.”
Iceta also vowed that a solution would be found before punishments can be handed out to the players.
Reacting to the ongoing dispute between federation and the players, men’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Iker Casillas wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Everything they do keeps getting WORSE in RFEF.”
Spanish footballers’ union, AFE, said it was “absolutely shocked” by Monday’s squad announcement in a statement.
“It’s incomprehensible that an institution, which itself has stated in the last few weeks, which hopes to commence a new era of open and consensus dialogue, demonstrates once again a huge lack of consideration towards women’s football and the recently proclaimed world champions,” AFE said.
“From AFE, we appeal to RFEF to cease in its efforts to pressure the players and it considers why there’s such a lack of confidence and support on behalf of many of its called up players.”
The Spanish women’s national team is due to play Sweden and Switzerland in the Women’s Nations League on Friday and next Tuesday respectively.
How we got here
Spanish players’ dissatisfaction with the federation dates back over a year when 15 members of the senior women’s squad 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.
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.
“Its absolutely necessary, to realize these changes, to clarify each of the behaviors and conducts which may have occurred and act, as such, with professionalism and justice, settling the relevant responsibilities in each case,” it said.
“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.”
On Friday, Rubiales testified in Spain’s National Court after being summoned by the presiding judge to aid in the court’s investigation into potential charges of sexual assault and coercion against him.
The Spanish Prosecutor’s office said Rubiales answered questions from the judge and all parties and denied the charges.
Later on Friday, the judge gave Rubiales a restraining order, preventing him from going within 200 meters of Hermoso, and ordered him not to communicate with her during the court’s investigation.
“The whole world could see it was not consensual. That’s what we’ll show,” Hermoso’s lawyer Carla Vall said after leaving the National Court in the capital of Madrid.
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CNN’s Pau Mosquera and Ben Church contributed to reporting.