FILE - The president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, left, and the president of the Saudi General Sports Authority, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, enter a press conference behind the Spanish Super Cup, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019 (AP Photo / Amr Nabil, file)

BARCELONA (AP) – Faced with criticism from human rights groups, the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) defended the return of the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia as Real Madrid prepares to face the Athletic Bilbao in the final on Sunday.

Amnesty International had asked the four clubs that traveled to the mini-tournament to wear armbands in protest at the repression of women’s rights and the attacks against the LGBTQ community that have occurred in the country. Neither team did so in this week’s semi-finals, when Real Madrid beat Barcelona 3-2 in overtime and Athletic Bilbao beat Atlético de Madrid 2-1.

The president of the Federation, Luis Rubiales, insisted that the decision to bring the renewed version of the Super Cup to the kingdom was good both for the money it generated for Spanish football – which according to reports is around 30 million euros ($ 34 million) a year through 2029 — as for what he saw as slow steps in favor of Saudi women.

“We were the first to sign a contract that was mandatory, if they wanted the Super Cup to bring them, for women to enter the stadiums equally with men. And they are entering. We have helped build a women’s league in Saudi Arabia, ”Rubiales told Cadena SER radio on Thursday night.

“At an ethical level, what we are doing here helps a lot in the development of women in football, which is our mission. And the rest of the political questions remain to the margin of the soccer “, added.

While there were women at King Fahd Stadium for the semi-finals, the crowd was mostly made up of men.

The presenter of the radio station Cadena SER, Àngels Barceló, whose morning program is listened to by nearly three million people in Spain, called the Federation and the clubs hypocrites.

“No regime would pay millions of dollars for them to come from abroad to change what the regime does not intend to move,” said Barceló. “What’s more, it punishes those who want to make changes. It is enormous nonsense. Spanish football is discredited with this competition, so do the teams that participate. After this, everyone will have more money in the box, but from now on don’t talk to us about values ​​or fair play ”.

Amnesty International believes that progress is little in return for helping the regime to connect with some of the most glamorous clubs in world football. The human rights organization has criticized the systematic abuse suffered by homosexuals in Saudi Arabia and the continuing discrimination against women.

“The fact (is) that the RFEF has decided to collaborate in this ‘image washing’ of the Saudi authorities,” said Esteban Beltrán, president of Amnesty International in Spain.

“Although in the last three years we have witnessed some progress, such as the lifting of the driving ban or the possibility of practicing sports, including the creation of a women’s league, unfortunately the good words of President Rubiales in 2019 (from that the Super Cup would help modernize Saudi Arabia) are far from being a reality, “added Beltran.

FILE – The president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, left, and the president of the Saudi General Sports Authority, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, enter a press conference behind the Spanish Super Cup, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019 (AP Photo / Amr Nabil, file)

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