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

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Fifteen players on Spain’s national women’s soccer team have said they may 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 equivalent letters, based on a press release released by the federation on Thursday, during which they threatened to quit the national team unless their coach, Jorge Vilda, was fired. The athletes, based on news reports in Spain, are frustrated at several elements of Vilda’s approach, and the federation’s statement alluded to those concerns, saying the players had written in regards to the effect of Vilda’s management and training style on “their emotional state and their health.”

The federation responded by saying that not only wouldn’t it not fire Vilda, who has led Spain since 2015, but that the players must apologize for his or her actions before they shall 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 “shouldn’t be going to permit the players to query the continuity of the national coach and his coaching staff, since making those decisions doesn’t fall inside their powers,” it said.

Spain, a rising power in women’s soccer, is coming off a frustrating summer during which it was eliminated within the quarterfinals of the European Championship. A number one contender for the trophy entering the tournament, and a pick by some to contend for the championship at next 12 months’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 within the second half.

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

On the time, the team’s captain, Irene Paredes, said the players had not asked for Vilda to be fired but “communicated the best 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 “during which they state that the present situation affects ‘significantly’ their emotional state and their health and that, ‘so long as it shouldn’t be reversed,’ they resign from the Spanish national team.”

The federation didn’t 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 amongst those that had written to the federation, but that Paredes, the captain, and Alexia Putellas, the reigning world player of the 12 months, weren’t amongst them. Players on Real Madrid’s roster also didn’t submit complaints, the reports said.

The standoff is the newest crisis within the turbulent tenure of Rubiales, the federation chief since 2018 who, in certainly one of his first acts as president, fired the coach of Spain’s men’s national team on the eve of its opening match on 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 latest fight. Team selection decisions were “nonnegotiable,” the statement said, declaring that the federation wouldn’t call on any soccer players “who don’t want to wear the Spain shirt.” If the athletes didn’t relent, the federation said, it was prepared to maneuver forward with a completely latest squad, “even in the event that they must play with youth” players.

“The players who’ve submitted their resignation will only return to the discipline of the national team in the longer term in the event that they accept their mistake and apologize,” the federation said.

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