Spain Women’s Soccer Stars Refuse to Play in Dispute Over Coach

Fifteen players on Spain’s national women’s soccer team have said they will not play under its current coach, sparking a public mutiny that drew a stern rebuke from the Spanish soccer federation.

The 15 players this week wrote identical letters, according to a statement released by the federation on Thursday, in which they threatened to quit the national team unless their coach, Jorge Vilda, was fired. The athletes, according to news reports in Spain, are frustrated at several aspects of Vilda’s approach, and the federation’s statement alluded to those concerns, saying the players had written about the effect of Vilda’s management and coaching style on “their emotional state and their health.”

The federation responded by saying that not only would it not fire Vilda, who has led Spain since 2015, but that the players must apologize for their actions before they will be allowed back on the team.

In giving its backing to Vilda, the federation also issued a stern warning to the players that they face bans of between two and five years for what it described as a “very serious infraction.”

The federation “is not going to allow the players to question the continuity of the national coach and his coaching staff, since making those decisions does not fall within their powers,” it said.

Spain, a rising power in women’s soccer, is coming off a frustrating summer in which it was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the European Championship. A leading contender for the trophy entering the tournament, and a pick by some to contend for the championship at next year’s Women’s World Cup, Spain was eliminated by the eventual champion, England, in a game that it led and largely controlled until a change of strategy in the second half.

Local news reports in Spain have described upheaval within the women’s squad in recent weeks, with players expressing their loss of trust in Vilda to the Spain soccer federation president, Luis Rubiales. They also expressed their dissatisfaction to Vilda directly.

At the time, the team’s captain, Irene Paredes, said the players had not asked for Vilda to be fired but “communicated the way we feel.”

Since then, the situation has clearly escalated. Late Thursday night, the federation said it had received 15 identically worded emails from 15 women “in which they state that the current situation affects ‘significantly’ their emotional state and their health and that, ‘as long as it is not reversed,’ they resign from the Spanish national team.”

The federation did not disclose the names of the 15 players who called for Vilda’s ouster. But Spanish news reports said six players from the Champions League runner-up, Barcelona, were among those who had written to the federation, but that Paredes, the captain, and Alexia Putellas, the reigning world player of the year, were not among them. Players on Real Madrid’s roster also did not submit complaints, the reports said.

The standoff is the latest crisis in the turbulent tenure of Rubiales, the federation chief since 2018 who, in one of his first acts as president, fired the coach of Spain’s men’s national team on the eve of its opening match at the 2018 World Cup. More recently, Rubiales has been under scrutiny after leaked messages revealed a questionable management style and business practices. Rubiales’s uncle, whom he had appointed to his staff on the Spanish federation, has accused the soccer president of using soccer funds to pay for lavish private events. Rubiales has denied those claims.

The federation’s latest statement has left little room for compromise in its new fight. Team selection decisions were “nonnegotiable,” the statement said, declaring that the federation would not call on any soccer players “who do not want to wear the Spain shirt.” If the athletes did not relent, the federation said, it was prepared to move forward with an entirely new squad, “even if they have to play with youth” players.

“The players who have submitted their resignation will only return to the discipline of the national team in the future if they accept their mistake and ask for forgiveness,” the federation said.

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