Most of Spain’s international footballers have agreed to rejoin the squad, the government said Wednesday, following a strike by the World Cup winners over the disgraced former president of the federation forcibly kissing a player. The announcement followed hours of negotiations over player demands for further changes at the Spanish football federation (RFEF) after ex-president Luis Rubiales resigned. “We have arrived at a series of agreements which will be drawn up and signed tomorrow” between the RFEF and the Spanish government, Victor Francos, secretary of state for sports, told reporters, adding that two of the 23 called-up players did not wish to continue with the squad.
A total of 19 players from new coach Montse Tome’s squad had been on strike over changes they want made to the RFEF, sparking concerns they would not play in upcoming Nations League games.
In the hours before the deal was announced, internationals selected by Tome gathered for training despite declaring themselves unavailable, some expressing fear of facing sanctions if they refused to play.
“We have been forced to come. But if they want to sanction us, then we have to come,” Barcelona defender Mapi Leon said.
Asked by a reporter on her arrival for training if she was happy to be included in the squad, goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez replied “no”.
Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was asked at Barcelona airport how she felt. “Well, bad,” the Barca player replied.
The striking players issued a statement Monday in which they had reiterated their wish not to be called up, while acknowledging the potential for legal consequences may force them to attend.
They had faced possible fines of between 3,000 and 30,000 euros ($3,200 and $32,100), while they could also have lost their licences to play for up to five years.
Secretary of state for sport Francos, who is also the president of Spain’s High Council for Sports (CSD), said the two women who decided not to play would not face sanctions.
The scandal erupted just moments after Spain won the World Cup on August 20, when then president Rubiales forcibly kissed midfielder Jenni Hermoso on the lips as the team received the trophy.
He eventually resigned three weeks after the incident and controversial coach Jorge Vilda was sacked, but many players demanded more wide-ranging improvements and structural changes.
Hermoso was not named in the squad in order to “protect” her, the new coach Tome, Vilda’s former assistant, said Monday.
That decision too proved controversial.
“Protect me from what? And from whom?” Hermoso posted on X on Tuesday.
She accused the RFEF of seeking to “intimidate and threaten” the world champions by calling them up against their will for the upcoming matches.
Francos initially said he would have to apply the country’s sports law against any player who snubbed the call.
However he later made a U-turn on those comments and met with the players on Tuesday night to ask them to play and offer them government help.
“You go (to play) and we commit ourselves so that what you are asking for can be possible,” Francos told Spanish public television.
“If any player is not comfortable and does not want to play, I think the most normal thing is that they are not called up and another one is called up,” he added.
Spain face Sweden on September 22 and Switzerland on September 26 in the Nations League.
The eventual finalists of the Nations League will qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games.
Spanish players were offered support by their Swedish counterparts.
“They need to feel the support around them, that other countries support them in the decisions they make,” said Sweden midfielder Filippa Angeldahl.
“If they feel they have to boycott to make something happen, it’s clear that we support them.”
Goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl wrote on X: “I don’t want to be part of encouraging people to chase a football dream if the game will not protect them while doing so.”
Spain plan to fly to Sweden on Thursday morning before their match in Gothenburg on Friday.
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