MADRID (AP) — The mother of the Spanish soccer federation president under fire for kissing a Women’s World Cup champion on the lips started a hunger strike Monday in defense of her son as calls grew for his resignation and prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation.
The scandal surrounding the kiss — and Rubiales’ refusal to accept Jenni Hermoso’s insistence that it was not consensual — has overshadowed the Spanish team’s 1-0 victory against England in the Women’s World Cup final. Spain’s national team players said last week they would not play any more games unless Rubiales resigns.
Rubiales also came under a storm of criticism for grabbing his crotch in a victory gesture while in the presidential box near Spain’s Queen Letizia and her teenage daughter, Princess Sofia.
Rubiales’ mother, Ángeles Béjar told the state news agency EFE she would remain on hunger strike “night and day” at a church in southern Spain until what she called the “inhumane hounding” of her son ends. Speaking outside the church in the southern town of Motril, Rubiales’ cousin, Vanessa Ruiz, joined his mother in calling on Hermoso to “tell the truth.”
Hermoso has denied Rubiales’ claim that she consented to what he called the “mutual” kiss during the Aug. 20 medal ceremony in Sydney, Australia.
In a statement last week, Hermoso said she considered herself the victim of abuse of power and accused the Spanish soccer federation of trying to pressure her into supporting Rubiales. The federation hit back by saying she was lying and that it would take legal action against her.
On Monday, leaders of the regional bodies within the Spanish federation called on Rubiales to resign “after the latest developments and the unacceptable behavior that has caused great damage to the image of Spanish soccer.”
Earlier in the day, the National Court’s Prosecutors Office said it was opening a preliminary investigation into whether the kiss was a sexual aggression offense and said it would give Hermoso 15 days to file a formal complaint as an alleged victim of sexual aggression.
Spain is hoping the country’s sports tribunal, which resolves legal issues in sports, will remove Rubiales definitively. Victor Francos, head of the government’s sports body, said the tribunal has yet to inform it what it intends to do about Rubiales.
Francos also expressed concern over how the issue may affect Spain’s bid to hold the 2030 World Cup with Portugal, Morocco and possibly Ukraine.
The scandal has caused a commotion in Spain and abroad.
On Monday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric criticized what he called a “critical issue of sexism” in sports, adding: “We hope the Spanish authorities and the Spanish government deal with this in a manner that respects the rights of all female athletes.”
Acting deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz met Monday with soccer union representatives with a view to removing Rubiales and changing the way equality issues are managed in Spanish soccer. “There has to be a profound renewal of the sporting structure in our country,” she said at a news conference.
Meanwhile, several hundred people waving purple women’s rights placards gathered in the center of Madrid for an anti-Rubiales protest and in support of Hermoso.
AP writers Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.