Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales has said he will continue defending himself “to prove the truth”.
Rubiales, 46, has been widely criticised after he kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips following Spain’s Women’s World Cup final win in Sydney, Australia on 20 August.
Hermoso said the kiss during the medal ceremony was not consensual.
In his first public comments since 25 August, when he refused to step down at an extraordinary general assembly called by the federation (RFEF), Rubiales acknowledged he had “made mistakes” but repeated his belief that the kiss was consensual.
He added: “I will continue to defend myself to prove the truth.”
Earlier, Spain’s national sports tribunal (TAD) opened a misconduct case against him.
The TAD ruled Rubiales committed a “serious offence” by kissing Hermoso, but stopped short of the “very serious offence” charge the government had requested which would have led to his suspension.
In response, sports minister Miquel Iceta called for Rubiales’ temporary suspension until the case has been resolved.
“The Sports Council and the government believe the RFEF president’s actions should be classified as a very serious abuse of authority which damages the image of Spanish football,” he said.
Rubiales, who also grabbed his crotch while celebrating in the VIP area in Stadium Australia, with Queen Letizia of Spain and her 16-year-old daughter standing nearby, continued: “On 20 August, I made some obvious mistakes, for which I sincerely, from the heart, regret.
“I’ve learned that no matter how great the joy and how deep the emotion, even when you win a World Cup, sports leaders should be held to exemplary behaviour, and mine was not so.
“I still have confidence in the independence of the bodies where this matter should be resolved, despite the political pressure and the interest-driven brutality of certain media outlets.
“Although information about this matter is being subjected to numerous manipulations, lies, and censorship, the truth has only one path, and that’s why I repeat, I trust that justice will be served.”
He added: “I want to send a message to all the good people in our country and beyond our borders, including those women who have really been attacked and who have my full support and understanding: this is not about gender, it is about truth.”
What else has happened?
On Monday, Spanish prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into whether the incident amounts to a crime of sexual assault, while the RFEF’s regional leaders called for his resignation.
Rubiales’ mother locked herself in a church on the same day and went on an “indefinite” hunger strike in protest against the treatment of her son. She was taken to hospital on Wednesday and discharged the next day.
Also on Friday, the head of Spain’s Olympic Committee said Rubiales’ actions were “inappropriate and unacceptable” but an “isolated incident” that did not represent Spanish sport as a whole.
Alejandro Blanco, who described Rubiales as a personal friend, added that he advised the 46-year-old in a phone call after the World Cup final to apologise, highlight the success for Spanish women’s football and offer his resignation.
“I believe that [resigning] would have been a coherent gesture, one that the whole of society would understand and the best gesture that could be made to show repentance,” he said.
Meanwhile, the head coach of Spain’s men’s team hasasked for “forgiveness”after applauding last Friday’s speech in which Rubiales said he would not resign.
Luis de la Fuente said it was an “inexcusable human error” but added he would not step down from his job.
The RFEF is also exploring its options over whether it can sack Women’s World Cup-winning head coach Jorge Vilda.
Vilda remains in his post despite most of his coaching staff resigning in protest against Rubiales’ refusal to quit. Eighty-one Spain players, including all 23 World Cup winners, have also said they would not play for the team again while Rubiales remained in position.
A video has emerged appearing to show Hermoso and her team-mates laughing and discussing the kiss on the team bus following the game.
Hermoso appears to be viewing a meme of ex-Spain men’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas kissing his then partner Sara Carbonero, a television presenter, during an interview following his country’s 2010 World Cup victory.
She later says “he comes over and hugs me like this” when talking about Rubiales.
In her statement denying the kiss was consensual, Hermoso said: “I feel the need to report this incident because I believe no person, in any work, sports or social setting should be a victim of these types of non-consensual behaviours.
“I felt vulnerable and a victim of impulsive-driven, sexist, out-of-place act, without any consent on my part. Quite simply, I was not respected.”
She added that she was put “under continuous pressure” to help with a “statement that could justify” Rubiales’ actions – and so were her family, friends and team-mates.