MONACO (AP) — Spanish soccer star Aitana Bonmatí used her acceptance speech at a UEFA awards ceremony on Thursday to voice support for her teammate who was forcibly kissed by the country's soccer federation president after the Women’s World Cup final.
Bonmatí was named women's player of the year at the annual gala held amid a crisis for European soccer's governing body caused by the behavior of its vice president Luis Rubiales at the Women's World Cup final.
Rubiales has refused to resign as Spanish soccer federation president despite a furor over his behavior toward Jenni Hermoso at the trophy presentation after Spain's victory over England in Sydney, Australia.
“As a society, we cannot allow the abuse of power in a working environment or disrespect," Bonmatí said on stage as UEFA leaders watched in the convention hall in high-end Monte Carlo. “To all women who are suffering the same thing as Jenni, we’re with you.”
Rubiales could not attend the event because he was suspended Saturday by FIFA, two days after the world governing body opened a disciplinary case against him. UEFA has not taken any action against Rubiales, who gets paid 250,000 euros ($270,000) for his role as a vice president.
“Spanish soccer is going through bad moments right now,” Bonmatí said. “We won the World Cup, but we’re not talking a lot about that because of some things I rather not ignore.”
The issue was also raised on stage by the winner of the coaching award in women’s soccer, Sarina Wiegman.
Wiegman praised the Spanish players who beat her England team 1-0 in the final for playing “such great football that everyone enjoyed.”
“This team deserves to be celebrated and deserves to be listened to,” Wiegman said toward the end of her acceptance speech, minutes before Bonmatí went on stage.
“We all know the issues around the Spanish team,” the Dutch coach said. “It really hurts me as a coach, a mother of two daughters, as a wife and human being.”
Praising the progress made in the game, Wiegman also cautioned: “There is also still a long way to go in women’s football and in society.”
Wiegman won the vote for best coach in women’s soccer ahead of two Spanish men — the controversial Spain national team coach Jorge Vilda and Jonatan Giráldez of Barcelona, who led a team including Bonmatí to win the Women’s Champions League.
Bonmatí was among 15 players who rebelled against Vilda’s coaching style and refused to play for him. She was among only three players who returned and were selected for the World Cup.
Dozens of Spanish players, including Olga Carmona who also was nominated for the UEFA award, are now refusing to play for the national team while Rubiales continues to lead the federation.
UEFA's top officials were silent on Rubiales for 10 days until its president Aleksander Ceferin called his conduct “inappropriate” in an interview Wednesday with French daily L'Equipe.
After the ceremony Thursday, UEFA's head of women's football Nadine Kessler said the award winners had been “gracious and very respectful” in their speeches.
“They stand for more than just their perfect performances,” Kessler told The Associated Press.
The men's awards were swept by Manchester City, which won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup last season.
Erling Haaland won the player award ahead of teammate Kevin De Bruyne and Lionel Messi.
Pep Guardiola won the coaching award ahead of Inter Milan coach Simone Inzaghi and Luciano Spalletti, who led Napoli to the Italian league title and now coaches the Italian national team.
AP Sports Writer Eric Nunez in New York contributed to this report.
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