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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Luis Rubiales, ex-chief of Spanish soccer, to face trial over World Cup kiss

Jennifer Hermoso of Spain (10) scores a goal in a Women’s World Cup round of 16 match against the U.S. at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, June 24, 2019. A judge concluded last week that when Spain’s one-time soccer chief, Luis Rubiales, kissed Hermoso after the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney last summer, it “was nonconsensual and was a unilateral and surprise act.” (Pete Kiehart/The New York Times)

By Rachel Chaundler

Luis Rubiales, Spain’s onetime soccer chief, is due to be tried over his nonconsensual kiss of a star player during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony last summer after a judge recommended last Thursday that he face a court’s judgment in a high-profile case that has upended the sport in Spain.

Judge Francisco de Jorge also recommended that Rubiales and three officials with the Royal Spanish Football Federation, soccer’s governing body in the country — including Jorge Vilda, who was fired as the women’s team coach in the wake of the incident — be tried on charges of coercion for exerting pressure on the player, Jennifer Hermoso, to show support for Rubiales in the immediate aftermath of the kiss.

The judge concluded that the kiss by Rubiales, after the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney, “was nonconsensual and was a unilateral and surprise act.” De Jorge also found that even if the kiss was more celebratory than sexual in nature, Rubiales’ behavior was within the bounds of the “intimacy of sexual relations” and he should be held to account.

Public prosecutors and Hermoso now have 10 days to formalize their accusations, and then a trial will take place. If found guilty of sexual assault, Rubiales would face a prison sentence of one to four years.

Vilda filed an appeal regarding the judge’s findings Thursday. As a result, the judge is required to gather further testimony about the matter. All of the accused have three days to appeal the judge’s recommendations.

The ruling was the culmination of a pretrial inquiry, presided over by de Jorge, in which witnesses including Hermoso, officials and other players gave evidence regarding sexual assault accusations against Rubiales in a closed-door hearing that ended Jan. 2. The judge also examined videos of the kiss from numerous angles and a video recorded on a bus after the medal ceremony, in which Hermoso initially seemed to make light of the incident.

Hermoso, who is expected to play for Spain in the Paris Olympic Games this summer if the country qualifies, was not immediately available for comment.

The player filed a criminal complaint against Rubiales in September, 2 1/2 weeks after he forcefully kissed her on the lips, on live television, on the podium as the team celebrated its victory over England in the World Cup final. That complaint cleared the way for public prosecutors to open a case against Rubiales.

The public reckoning over the kiss has overshadowed one of Spain’s finest hours in soccer and fed a broader debate about sexism and power imbalances in the sport. The episode also led to the resurfacing of decades-old accusations of disrespect and controlling behavior by male coaches and managers in Spain toward female players.

When players vowed, in protest, not to take the field for the national team and Alexia Putellas, one of that team’s stars, coined the phrase “se acabó” or “it’s over” in support of Hermoso, comparisons were made to the #MeToo movement.

Even Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez waded into the post-match fray, calling the kiss “unacceptable.”

Rubiales initially offered a halfhearted apology for his behavior. But he later tried to shift the blame onto Hermoso, saying that she had “moved me close to her body” during the embrace. After a defiant speech in which he refused to resign and railed against what he called “false feminism,” he received a standing ovation from his colleagues at the soccer federation.

In response, members of Spain’s women’s national soccer squad and dozens of other players signed an ultimatum, insisting that they would not play for their country — potentially blowing Spain’s chances of an Olympic ticket — “if the current managers continue.”

As public attention on working conditions in Spanish women’s soccer grew, players from Spain’s professional clubs disrupted the league’s opening weekends in September by staging a strike over low pay, maternity leave and harassment protocol.

Rubiales initially resisted calls for his resignation. But when a court issued a restraining order against him less than a month after the World Cup final, he stepped down as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation and as a vice president of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body.

By October, FIFA — soccer’s governing body, which initially suspended him for 90 days over the incident — had barred him from the sport for three years.

Rubiales is also the subject of an investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors over irregularities in the use of federation funds.

Other heads have also rolled. Vilda, a close Rubiales ally who in 2022 was dogged by accusations of controlling behavior toward national squad players, was fired as the team’s coach in September, despite leading the team to victory in the World Cup a month earlier. He was replaced by Spain’s first female national coach, Montse Tomé.

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