Spain’s World Cup winning squad agreed to end their boycott of the national team early on Wednesday after the country’s football federation (RFEF) said it would make “immediate and profound changes” to its structure. In a joint statement, the players said they wished to return to the national team but demanded structural changes to ensure future generations’ success.
The 15 members of ‘Las 15,’ as they are known have been outspoken in their criticism of the national setup since Jorge Vilda was fired in September. While the RFEF publicly stood by Vilda, it quietly worked behind the scenes to appease the players. It increased staff on the national teams, gave them chartered flights, and offered money to help with the costs of bringing their families along with them. It also allowed them to take time off for family commitments and, in some cases, to recover from injuries that could have shortened their careers.
But the changes needed to be more. After Vilda was dismissed, the players took further action and wrote an email to RFEF saying they would not return to the national team until those structural issues were addressed. They were backed by two players who did not send the email – Athenea del Castillo and two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas – and the federation women’s union FUTPRO.
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A day after the players’ statement was released, RFEF chairman Victor Francos and women’s soccer chief Rafael del Amo met with them. The meeting was closed to the media and lasted more than seven hours at a hotel in Oliva, an hour from Valencia. The players, RFEF officials, the National Sports Council (CSD), and the women’s players’ union FUTPRO were present.
The players’ demands were broad and varied. They want interim president Pedro Rocha, who was picked to succeed Vilda by Rubiales, to step down; for the women’s team staff to be overhauled; and for personnel changes to be made in the federation cabinet, press relations department and integrity department charged with fighting discrimination. They also want a restructure of the communications and marketing departments.
In a statement, the 15 boycotting players said they had studied the legal implications of their actions and found that under Spanish sports law, they can be fined up to $30,000 or have their federation license suspended for two to 15 years if they refuse to accept a call-up. The statement added that they had been forced to act because the federation was trying to “tarnish” their most significant achievement.
The federation statement said it was aware of the importance of the situation and that it had “listened attentively to the players’ concerns, expressing full solidarity with them and reiterating the need for immediate and profound changes.” It also called on the players to defend their national teams at international events. A joint commission will be created to follow up on the agreement, and the details of the changes will be announced soon.