Fifteen players from the team that won the Women’s World Cup last month were called up by Spain on Monday ahead of their upcoming UEFA Nations League fixtures, but plenty of uncertainty remains weeks after a large group of players launched a protest against the Royal Spanish Football Federation.
The list of names on this month’s roster includes World Cup golden boot winner Aitana Bonmati and reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, as well as two high-profile players who did not participate at the World Cup — Mapi Leon and Pati Guijarro. Jennifer Hermoso, though, was left off the team. Hermoso was forcibly kissed by former federation president Luis Rubiales at the trophy ceremony following the World Cup final on Aug. 20, and after weeks of widespread criticism resigned from his post on Sept. 10.
Spain head coach Montse Tome cited the exclusion as a protective measure. “We are all with Jenni and with all of the players,” she said, per the Associated Press. “I believe this was the best way to protect her.”
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It has been a turbulent year for the federation and the World Cup winners. In Sept. 2022, 15 players — including Bonmati, Leon, and Guijarro — sent individual but identical emails refusing to play for the national team, citing a toxic and unprofessional culture. The federation backed its practices as well as the under-fire head coach Jorge Vilda and forced players to apologize if they wanted to make the World Cup squad. Eight eventually did, and three made the trip to Australia and New Zealand for the competition.
Rubiales’ actions, and in particular his refusal to resign in an emergency meeting called by the federation on Aug. 25, reignited the protest. Eighty-one players, including the entire World Cup team, signed a letter in support of Hermoso and refused to play for the national team under changes were made. Vilda was fired a few days before Rubiales stepped down, but their departures were not enough to end the protest.
“The changes made are not enough for the players to feel safe, where women are respected, where there is support for women’s football and where we can maximize our potential,” 39 players wrote in a letter published on social media on Friday. “The players of the Spanish team have, at all times, been open to dialogue, seeking to convey clear and well-argued reasons that we believe are necessary to be able to carry out our work at the highest level with the respect we deserve.”
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The players also shared a list of demands, including the resignation of new federation president Pedro Rocha, who was hand-picked by Rubiales according to The Athletic. They also called for the restructuring of the federation’s women’s soccer organization, presidential cabinet, communications and marketing department, and ethics and integrity set up.
The number of protesting players whittled down to 38 once the roster was announced on Monday. Athenea del Castillo and Claudia Zornoza are the only members of the World Cup-winning team not to sign the new letter, though Zornoza announced her retirement from international soccer last week.
Vilda’s successor and former assistant Tome said she was eager to usher in a new era for the national team after unveiling the roster on Monday, which includes 20 players who signed the Friday letter.
“I’m Montse Tomé, I’m not Jorge Vilda,” she said, per DAZN. “I’m a different person with a different personality with my values and with my way of transmitting my football.”
The federation also responded to the players’ demands on Monday and said it was working on improvements, but did not specify what those changes were.
“We guarantee a safe environment for the players and we are committed to an environment of mutual trust so that we can work together and ensure that women’s football continues to progress much stronger,” it said in a statement. “The federation itself is aware of the necessity of making structural changes, like the president of the committee, Pedro Rocha, has announced, these changes have started to be made in the recent days.”
The protesting players who were called up were reportedly not informed beforehand, per The Athletic, despite taking a meeting with federation officials on Friday. The federation said that “some of what they have asked for” will be complete in a month’s time, but the players took to social media late Monday to express their disappointment in a lack of concrete commitments.
“As professional players and after what has happened today, we will study the possible legal consequences to which the RFEF exposed us to by putting us in a squad which we had asked not to be called for reasons already explained publicly,” they wrote in a letter. “We regret once again that our federation places us in a situation that we would never like to be in.”
The players also accused the federation of violating FIFA regulations by improperly notifying them of their call-ups to the national team.
“It seems relevant to point out, in this sense, that the call up has not been made in a timely manner, in accordance with art. 3.2 of Annex I of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of FIFA Players, we understand that the RFEF is not in a position to require us to go.”
Players are due to report to training camp on Tuesday. It is unclear if the 20 players who signed off on the letter and were named to the roster will make the trip for Spain’s games against Sweden and Switzerland on Sept. 22 and Sept. 26, respectively.