‘It is time to fight’: Spain’s World Cup players continue strike action

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Barcelona: Spain’s World Cup-winning women’s team have continued their strike action, refusing to make themselves available for the national squad and forcing new coach Montse Tome to postpone the announcement of her team for the Nations League.

Tome had on Friday been expected to name her team for fixtures against Sweden and Switzerland on September 22 and 26, but a statement from 29 players – led by Ballon d’Or Alexia Putellas – scuppered the announcement.

UEFA Player of the Year Aitana Bonmati used her acceptance speech in August to call for more support for players.Credit: Getty Images

Tome must now decide whether to still call up the striking players or find an alternative squad that’s willing to play for her. Under Spanish sports law, athletes are required to answer the call of their national teams unless there are circumstances that impede them from playing, such as an injury.

In addition to Putellas, the striking players include UEFA Player of the Year Aitana Bonmati and 37 others playing elite football at clubs across the world. Calling them up – and subsequently banning them or fining them for non-compliance – would risk inflaming an already volatile situation.

The strike came after Luis Rubiales, then president of the Spanish football federation, caused an uproar when he kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the medal ceremony in Sydney after Spain beat England in the World Cup final on August 20.

The kiss was the latest in a series of acts from within the federation and its hierarchy that the players deemed unacceptable. Rubiales’ refusal to step down in the days after the kiss only inflamed the situation as the players called for reforms and new leadership.

Rubiales was first suspended by the sport’s governing body FIFA, then his interim replacement fired women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda. Rubiales himself eventually resigned under immense pressure and is now facing criminal charges of sexual assault over the kiss. At a preliminary court hearing on Friday, the prosecutor successfully requested a restraining order against Rubiales so that he cannot go within 200 metres of Hermoso.

Many expected that the firing of Vilda and the exit of Rubiales would clear the path for the return of the players, but the players have called for root and branch change.

In their statement on Friday, the players make clear that “the events that unfortunately the whole world were able to see are not a one-off and go beyond sporting matters.”

“We must have zero tolerance for these acts – for our colleague, for us and for all women,” they wrote in Spanish.

They called for a complete restructuring of the women’s football organisation, along with changes at the federation’s executive level and changes to the communications and ethics units.

“We would like to end this statement by saying that the players of the Spanish national team are professional players, and what fills us most with pride is to wear the shirt of our national team and to take our country to the highest levels,” the players wrote.

“For this reason, we believe that it is time to fight to show that these situations and practices have no place in our football or in our society, that the current structure needs to change and we do this so that the next generation can have much more equality football and at a level that we all deserve.”

Athenea del Castillo and Claudia Zornoza, both Real Madrid players, were the only two women from the World Cup team not to sign the statement.

Zornoza said on X, formerly Twitter, that she was retiring from international football at the age of 32, but indicated her support regardless.

“The moment has arrived for me to say goodbye and focus on my objectives with Real Madrid,” the midfielder said. “I desire with all my strength that for once and for all, all the areas of the national team change so they can be at the same level as our achievements.”

    Last year, 15 players similarly rebelled, asking for more a more professional approach from Vilda. The federation – led by Rubiales – firmly backed Vilda, and only three of those players relented and were eventually included in the World Cup squad.

    With Rubiales – Vilda’s biggest supporter – out of the way, the federation has sided more fully with the players during this second rebellion. In Vilda’s place, the federation hired Tome, his former assistant, as the first female coach of Spain’s women’s team.

    Putellas, a two-time Ballon d’Or winner, had said on Wednesday that the players wanted sweeping reform.

    “We are asking for changes so no woman, inside or outside of soccer, should ever have to experience again situations of disparagement, disrespect, or abuse,” she said. “We need consensus, courage and leadership from the institutions, please. This is why we will not stop here.”


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