BARCELONA, Spain ( Associated Press) — Facing criticism from human rights groups, the president of Spain’s football federation has defended the return of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia as Real Madrid prepare to play Athletic Bilbao in Sunday’s final.
Amnesty International asked four teams traveling in the mini-tournament to wear armbands to protest suppression of women’s rights and attacks on the LGBTQ community in the country. Neither team did so in this week’s semi-finals, when Madrid beat Barcelona 3-2 in extra time and Bilbao beat Atletico Madrid 2-1.
Federation president Luis Rubiales insisted that the decision to move the state-run new edition of the Super Cup was good for the money it brought to Spanish football – reportedly around 30 million euros a year through 2029. ($34 million) – and for what they called small steps promoting it for Saudi women.
“We were the first to sign a contract that made it mandatory, if they wanted us to bring the Super Cup here, let the women into the stadiums, and they’re there, and we started building a women’s football league in Saudi Arabia. has helped,” Rubiales told Cadena SER radio on Thursday night.
“On the moral plane, we are doing a lot here to help develop women in football, which is our commitment. The rest of the political questions are outside the realm of football.”
When the women were at the King Fahd Stadium for the semi-finals, the crowd was heavily outnumbered by the men.
Cadena SER radio host ngels Barceló, whose morning show is followed by nearly three million listeners in Spain, called the federation and club hypocrite.
“No regime will pay millions of dollars to replace a regime that has no plans to change itself,” Barcelo said. “Spanish football tarnishes itself with this competition, as do the participating teams. Later, they will all have more money in the bank, but from now on don’t let them tell us about values and fairness.” “
Amnesty International believes there is little progress in return for helping Reigns link some of the world’s most glamorous clubs. The human rights organization has criticized the systematic abuse of homosexuals and continued discrimination against women.
“The fact is that the Spanish football federation has decided to cooperate in this ‘whitewashing’ of the image of the Saudi authorities,” said Esteban Beltrán, president of Amnesty International in Spain.
“If we have seen some progress in these last three years, such as the removal of the ban on women driving and the opportunity to play sports, including the establishment of the Women’s Football League, unfortunately in 2019 the well-intentioned words of President Rubiales (that the Super Cup will help modernize Saudi Arabia) are far from becoming a reality.
When asked his stand on the petition for Amnesty’s teams to stage protests, Rubiales complained that the rights group made public with their campaign before sending a written request to the Federation in an attempt to create an “uproar”.
So far, the only player to speak out against moving the Games to Saudi Arabia is Bilbao forward Raul Garcia. But he focused his criticism on his team’s inability to play in front of fans. Bilbao’s win over Atletico drew far fewer crowds than Wednesday’s “Clásico” between Madrid and Barcelona.
The tournament was first played in Saudi Arabia in 2019, just before the pandemic. Health and travel restrictions forced the federation to move it back to Spain last year, with Bilbao defeating Madrid and Barcelona to claim the trophy.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti seeks his first title as leaders of the Spanish league in his second stint in charge. Ancelotti will be without defender Dani Carvajal, who tested positive for COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia on Friday. In-form forward Vinicius Junior may be in doubt as a muscle problem necessitates his replacement against Barcelona.
Bilbao will again hope to rely on brothers Inaki and Nico Williams in an attack and a play by Iker Munian.
More Associated Press Soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports