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Spain's women's soccer coach is fired as fallout grows from unwanted World Cup kiss

Jorge Vilda stands during the Women's World Cup semifinal soccer match between Sweden and Spain in Auckland, New Zealand, on Aug. 15. Spain's soccer federation announced Vilda's dismissal as coach of the women's national team on Tuesday.
Alessandra Tarantino
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AP
Jorge Vilda stands during the Women's World Cup semifinal soccer match between Sweden and Spain in Auckland, New Zealand, on Aug. 15. Spain's soccer federation announced Vilda's dismissal as coach of the women's national team on Tuesday.

Updated September 5, 2023 at 3:01 PM ET

Spain's soccer federation has dismissed its women's national team coach, Jorge Vilda, and named as its new coach Montse Tomé — the first woman to hold the role in Spain.

The changes come amid the continuing fallout over the actions of federation president Luis Rubiales at the Women's World Cup final — which included forcibly kissing star forward Jenni Hermoso and making a lewd crotch-grabbing gesture.

In its sacking of Vilda on Tuesday, the federation said "Gracias, Jorge" and released a statement declaring that over the course of his eight-year helm he "has been key to the remarkable growth of women's football and leaves Spain as world champion and second in the FIFA ranking."

The statement by the Royal Spanish Football Federation, known as the RFEF, doesn't mention that Vilda's job had hung in the balance due to his connection to Rubiales and the global condemnation he has received following Spain's victory at the tournament last month.

The members of Spain's World Cup-winning team and dozens of other Spanish players had announced on August 25 that they would refuse to play for Spain while "the current leaders" continue. Many understood that to mean that the players were demanding the removal of both Rubiales and Vilda.

The appointment of Tomé sends a message

Montse Tomé, seen here in 2019, will be the first woman to be head coach of Spain's women's national soccer team.
/ Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
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Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
Montse Tomé, seen here in 2019, will be the first woman to be head coach of Spain's women's national soccer team.

Tomé, a former player, had been assistant coach to Vilda since 2018. The team's first matches with Tomé at the helm will be in the UEFA Women's Nations League, against Sweden and Switzerland — both teams that Spain beat at the Women's World Cup.

Her appointment came immediately after Vilda's firing, and its message was clear: a highly capable woman is now in charge of the top women's soccer team in the world — a team that has been through the wringer since winning the Cup.

"Tomé ... has established herself as a fundamental piece in the growth of the national team," the federation said.

Vilda's troubles predated the World Cup controversy

Last year, many of the country's top players refused to play under Vilda, who they said was too controlling. Three of the those players ended up on the World Cup roster, but others stayed home as Spain's team marched to its first title in the tournament.

Spain coach Jorge Vilda, left, talks with Spain soccer federation president Luis Rubiales at a training session during the Women's World Cup last month.
/ Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
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Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Spain coach Jorge Vilda, left, talks with Spain soccer federation president Luis Rubiales at a training session during the Women's World Cup last month.

Rubiales supported Vilda throughout the controversy, and at the same time that he refused to resign from his post as federation president for his actions at the World Cup, he offered Vilda a new four-year contract worth half a million euros a year.

"You deserve it, Jorge, we've gone through a lot, a lot. I've always said you were one of the best managers in the world in women's football. Sincerely, I tell you you're the best," said Rubiales, according to The Athletic.

Vilda and Spain's men's national team coach Luis de la Fuente were both seen applauding Rubiales' speech to the Spanish federation in the days after the World Cup in which he refused to resign. Both would later issue statements condemning him.

De la Fuente's job appears safe for now. On Friday, the federation posted an explanation from de la Fuente for his widely-criticized decision to applaud Rubiales.

Rubiales had been expected by many to resign at that emergency meeting, but instead he steadfastly refused. Rubiales has said he kissed Hermosa with her consent after Spain's World Cup victory, but she has refuted that claim, saying she was "the victim of aggression."

De la Fuente said he applauded Rubiales at the emergency meeting because he was "convinced that we were attending the protocol farewell of a president, but it turned into something completely different." He said he had to "apologize for an inexcusable human error," and that "I went blank, it was a situation that overwhelmed me."

Spain's soccer federation is apologizing for its embattled president

Rubiales has been provisionally suspended by FIFA, soccer's world governing body, for 90 days from all soccer-related activity while disciplinary proceedings are underway. The government of Spain is also pursuing multiple proceedings against him, including investigating whether he committed a crime.

Earlier on Tuesday, the RFEF's interim president, Pedro Rocha, released a statement apologizing to "the world of football" – and especially the national teams of Spain and England — for Rubiales' "inappropriate conduct."

"Spanish society is an example of tolerance and civility ... and that nobility and international prestige of our society and our sport have been marred in recent days by the performance of Luis M. Rubiales," wrote Rocha. "The damage caused to Spanish football, Spanish sport, Spanish society and to the set of values of football and sport has been enormous."

"We feel deeply sorry for the damage caused; and therefore, from this RFEF, we must apologize most sincerely and acquire a firm and absolute commitment that events like these can never happen again," the statement continued.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.