Last September, 15 players on the Spanish national women’s soccer team stated that they would prefer not to play at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, or any SWNT game, unless the Royal Spanish Football Federation, or RFEF, properly investigated concerns regarding the training methods and actions of head coach Jorge Vilda that players have claimed created an environment of stress and anxiety.
While three of the members of the original boycott have since accepted spots on the World Cup roster since then, the ongoing absence of other senior members of the team goes beyond concerns about Spain’s ability to compete in the World Cup and points to a larger issue in the sport when it comes to addressing misconduct allegations.
FC Barcelona and Spanish national players Mapi Leon, Patri Guijarro and Sandra Panos are absent from the roster due to the boycott. The loss of Panos, who won UEFA goalkeeper of the season in 2021, opens up a gap in Spain’s defense that even Putellas and Bonmati may not be able to fill. With midfielder Guijarro and defender Leon also absent, Spain is coming into this year’s tournament with a weakened team and in the midst of a colossal crisis.
The long-standing boycott began when 15 players emailed RFEF to announce their desire to not be on the roster for the World Cup due to concerns about their health after training under Vilda. The players noted that they were not asking for Vilda to be fired, but for their complaints to be taken seriously.
RFEF publicly revealed the contents of the emails and declared its support for Vilda. The federation warned players that they could be suspended for several years for their stance, calling the disagreement an unprecedented situation in the history of football, both male and female, in the Spanish and world arena.
The emails weren’t the first sign of unrest: Nearly a month before the emails were made public, the players brought their complaints to RFEF president Luis Rubiales.
Spanish national team captains Alexia Putellas and Irene Paredes, though not part of the group that originally emailed the federation, have expressed support for their teammates. Putellas released a statement protesting RFEF’s decision to publicize the situation on Twitter in September, stating that she stands with her teammates.
Despite the dispute, both Putellas and Paredes are on the roster to play for Spain on the world’s stage this week. They are joined by Aitana Bonmatí, Ona Batlle and Mariona Caldentey, who were part of the squad that sent emails to the federation. Otherwise, Vilda has called up different players to fill the spots of Spain’s 23-member squad.
The situation has added to Putellas’ slew of difficulties in the past year. Besides navigating the discord between the squad and the RFEF, Putellas was out with an injury for most of last season after tearing her ACL. Prior to the injury, she was on track to lead Spain as captain in the 2022 Euro championships. Now returning to play after a major injury, Putellas, who took home two Ballon d’Or awards, 27 league titles and five Champions league trophies, returns to a fractured team.
With the World Cup kicking off July 20, the boycott and the controversy surrounding it will increasingly be in the spotlight as one of the major storylines heading into the tournament. Spain will face Costa Rica in its first World Cup match in New Zealand on July 21.