Striking Spain players arrive for national team camp
Spanish internationals called up by new coach Montse Tome travelled Tuesday to meet up with the women's national team, despite declaring themselves unavailable, with doubts about their willingness to play in upcoming Nations League games persisting.
Women's World Cup final-winning goalscorer Olga Carmona and four others presented themselves, along with Athenea del Castillo, who is not on strike, at a Madrid hotel to travel to Olivas on the east coast where the team are gathering.
Two-time Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas and other Barcelona-based players flew in the afternoon to join the camp near Valencia.
There are 39 players striking over changes they want made in the Spanish football federation (RFEF) after the kiss scandal which forced disgraced president Luis Rubiales to resign, including 20 of Tome's 23-woman squad.
Asked by a reporter if she was happy to be included in the squad, goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez replied "no" on her arrival to the hotel.
Later Putellas was asked in Barcelona airport how she felt and the Barcelona playmaker replied: "Well, bad."
The striking players issued a statement Monday in which they reiterated their wish not to be called up, but acknowledged legal consequences which may force them to attend.
The Spanish government said early Tuesday players who do not attend would have to be punished under the country's sports law.
Rubiales forcibly kissed midfielder Jenni Hermoso on the lips after Spain won the World Cup in Sydney on August 20, provoking worldwide outrage.
He eventually resigned three weeks after the incident and controversial coach Jorge Vilda was sacked, but many players want more wide-ranging improvements and structural changes.
Hermoso was not named in the squad by Tome in order to "protect" her, the new coach, Vilda's former assistant, said Monday.
"Protect me from what? And from whom?" Hermoso posted on X, formerly Twitter, early Tuesday.
She accused the Spanish federation of seeking to "intimidate and threaten" the World Cup champion players by calling them up against their will for the upcoming matches.
Victor Francos, the president of Spain's High Council for Sports (CSD), said early Tuesday he would have to apply the country's sports law against any player who snubbed the call.
However he later appeared to make a U-turn on those comments and will meet the players in Oliva, the CSD told AFP, to ask them to play and offer them government help.
"You go (to play) and we commit ourselves so that what you are asking for can be possible," Francos told Spanish public television.
"If any player is not comfortable and does not want to play, I think the most normal thing is that they are not called up and another one is called up," he added.
Spain's sports law from 2022 states that athletes must attend the call-ups of the national teams when summoned, and not doing so would be a "very serious" infraction.
The potential fines range between 3,000 and 30,000 euros ($3,200 to $32,100), while they could also lose their licences to play altogether, for up to five years.
Spain play Sweden on September 22 and Switzerland on September 26 in the Nations League.
The eventual finalists of the Nations League will qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games.
'We support them'
Spanish players were offered support by their Swedish counterparts.
"They need to feel the support around them, that other countries support them in the decisions they make," said Sweden midfielder Filippa Angeldahl.
"If they feel they have to boycott to make something happen, it's clear that we support them."
Goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl wrote on X: "I expect UEFA and FIFA to protect players of the game they oversee rather than adding pressure.
"I don't want to be part of encouraging people to chase a football dream if the game will not protect them while doing so."
"The RFEF does not have the right to deprive Spain of their women's national team, and more so after having won a World Cup," said the Spanish minister for culture and sport, Miquel Iceta.
"We call on the RFEF to correct all the deficiencies of this irregular call-up and to change the federation's structures so that the federation is a place of security, competitiveness and professionalism to which the players and the Spanish population as a whole have a right."
Spain plan to fly to Sweden on Thursday morning before playing in Gothenburg on Friday.
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