Most of Spain’s World Cup-winning players ended their boycott of the women’s national team early Wednesday, but only after the government intervened to help shape an agreement to make immediate changes at the country’s beleaguered soccer federation.
Two players, Barcelona teammates Patri Guijarro and Mapi León, opted to leave the training camp in the eastern city of Valencia after receiving guarantees from the government that they would not be sanctioned, with the rest staying after being told that some of their demands for reform would be met.
The players reported to camp on Tuesday after being picked by new coach Montse Tomé against their will the day before in the latest twist in the crisis that has engulfed Spanish soccer since former federation president Luis Rubiales kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the awards ceremony following Spain’s Women’s World Cup title in Australia last month.
They had been in open rebellion for more than three weeks, ever since the players said on Aug. 25 that they would not play again for their country until the federation had new leadership. After Rubiales stepped down, the players still refused to come back until federation underwent thorough reform.
Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was among the majority who stayed. Even so, during practice in Valencia she told reporters that “I don’t feel great about being here.”
Although no specifics of the agreement were immediately announced following the meeting that concluded at nearly 5 a.m. on Wednesday, the federation took only a few hours before announcing that its secretary general, Andreu Camps, was being relieved of his duties. Camps was considered to be close to Rubiales, and his removal had been one of the changes demanded by the players.
The president of the FUTPRO players’ union, Amanda Gutiérrez, said steps had been made toward establishing the same treatment for Spain’s women’s and men’s national teams.
“An agreement has been reached to make changes to the structure of women’s soccer, so that the executive and administrative staff will match that of the men’s team, to further professionalize the team and staff,” Gutiérrez said.
Víctor Francos, Spain’s Secretary for Sports and president of the Higher Council for Sports, said the “cordial meetings” led to the creation of a committee involving players, the federation and the government. He said the agreements should promote advances in gender policies and equal pay, as well as lead to structural changes in women’s soccer.
Another step taken by the federation was the elimination of the term “de fútbol femenino,” “women’s soccer,” from the name of the team. The federation said in a statement that both the men’s and women’s national teams would officially be known as “Selección Española de Fútbol,” or “Spain’s national soccer team.”
“More than a symbolic change, we want this to represent a conceptual shift, and recognition that soccer is soccer, regardless of who plays it,” Pedro Rocha, the federation’s interim president, said in the statement.
Among the demands by the players was to have Rocha, who took over after Rubiales’ resignation, to also step down.
León and Guijarro have not played for Spain since they formed part of a player revolt by 15 team members last year when they refused to play for the national team until the federation established a more “professional” working environment, in what turned out to be prequel to the current uprising.
“The situation for Patri (Guijarro) and me is different from our teammates,” León said when leaving the team. “This was not the proper way to come back (to the team). We were not ready to just say, OK, we are back. This is a process. (However) it is true that we are happy that changes are being made.”
Spain’s acting Minister for Culture and Sports, Miquel Iceta, said he was hopeful the expected reforms by the federation would create an environment in which “the players truly feel motivated, comfortable and happy to play and to win.”
Iceta said the federation plans to hold early elections in the first months of 2024.
“We hope that that the renewal of the federation will be a turning point,” Iceta said.