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Players on Spain's women soccer team say they won't play until changes are made

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Spain today, Jorge Vilda, the coach of the national women's soccer team, addressed the crisis rattling his organization. A week ago, 15 players on the team submitted identical emails to the Royal Spanish Football Federation. They said they couldn't play on the national team until there are changes made. And today Coach Vilda went both on the attack and the defense. He left those 15 players off the roster for upcoming games, and he said the players never came to him with their complaints. Six of the 15 players who came forward play for FC Barcelona, and joining us now from Barcelona is freelance reporter Alan Ruiz Terol to explain more. Welcome.

ALAN RUIZ TEROL: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So, Alan, how did we get to this point?

RUIZ TEROL: Spain is seen as a rising superpower in women's soccer, with many players coming from FC Barcelona. But while Barcelona has been extremely successful, the Spanish national team hasn't quite fulfilled its potential. At the World Cup, they were defeated by the U.S., and last summer in the European championship, they lost against England. And while it's worth noting that in both tournaments they were defeated by the eventual champions, still, the Spanish players believe that things need to change in order for them to be able to compete at the highest level. And just to hear what the players have to say, let's have a listen to the captain of the national team, Irene Paredes, who spoke at a press conference a month ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IRENE PAREDES: (Speaking Spanish).

RUIZ TEROL: "As a team, we are super-ambitious, and we want to improve. We want to win, and we believe there are certain internal aspects that need to change." Well, apparently, these internal aspects didn't change because a week ago, 15 players sent emails to the Federation saying the situation was affecting them emotionally and they no longer wanted to play for the national team unless their concerns were addressed.

SUMMERS: And how has the federation responded to their claims?

RUIZ TEROL: Well, the federation sees the emails as a kind of blackmail and said it will not allow the players to question the continuity of the coach since it's not up to them. The players themselves have denied calling for Coach Vilda's resignation, but media reports make it clear that he's lost their support. And while the specific complaints are not completely public, some reports say the players believe that training sessions should be more demanding, physically speaking. Also, the tactics need to improve. And Vilde himself has faced criticism over whether he's actually qualified for the job since he lacks experience coaching a professional team.

SUMMERS: And he has spoken now publicly about this dispute. What did you hear from him today during that press conference?

RUIZ TEROL: Yes. Today he appeared at a press conference and announced that the 15 players who sent the email would not be playing in the friendly matches against Sweden and the U.S. Of course, he also addressed the standoff with the players and defended himself against the criticism. Let's hear what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JORGE VILDA: (Speaking Spanish).

RUIZ TEROL: "This is not good for anybody. We're embarrassing ourselves in front of the world when we should instead be proud of our national team." He made it clear that he feels the Federation has his back, so he's not planning to resign. But there's a question still looming. How long can this last? - because next year is the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and Spain was expected to be one of the biggest contenders to win the trophy. But if nothing changes, some of the biggest stars not only in the Spanish national team but also in the world of women's soccer could miss the tournament.

SUMMERS: That is Alan Ruiz Terol from Barcelona. Thank you.

RUIZ TEROL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF COOLIO SONG, "GETO HIGHLITES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.