By JOSEPH WILSON
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish state prosecutors have accused Luis Rubiales of sexual assault and coercion for kissing a player on the lips without her consent after the Women’s World Cup final, the country’s prosecutors’ office said Friday.
Rubiales, the now-suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the awards ceremony after Spain beat England to win the title on Aug. 20 in Sydney, Australia.
Prosecutors presented a case against Rubiales to Spain’s National Court in Madrid two days after Hermoso formally accused him of sexual assault.
According to a sexual consent law passed last year, Rubiales could face a fine or a prison sentence of one to four years if found guilty of sexual assault. The new law eliminated the difference between “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault,” sanctioning any unconsented sexual act.
Prosecutors added Friday that Rubiales could have committed an act of coercion when, according to Hermoso, he pressured her to speak out in his defense immediately after the scandal erupted regarding his behavior.
Rubiales has insisted the kiss was consensual. Hermoso has denied that in statements issued by her and her players’ union.
Prosecutors have asked the judge that Rubiales appear before a court to give preliminary testimony. If the National Court judge agrees the hear the case, it would lead to a formal court investigation that will end with a recommendation for the case to either be dismissed or go to trial.
Hermoso, a 33-year-old forward, now plays for Mexican club Pachuca after a long career with top Spanish and European clubs, including Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid. She returned to her Mexican club on Thursday.
The 46-year-old Rubiales faces threats other than a possible criminal trial.
He was suspended from his post by FIFA on Aug. 27, a day after he refused to step down when he delivered a defiant speech to the general assembly of his federation in which he said he was victim of a “witch hunt” by “false feminists.” Rubiales was banned from his post for 90 days while FIFA disciplinary judges consider his case. Soccer’s governing body can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport.
Rubiales also faces action from the Spanish government. A government legal panel overseeing sports has opened a probe to determine if he abused his authority by kissing Hermoso or tainted the image of Spain with his conduct. He faces being deemed unfit to hold his post for up to two years.
Rubiales’ behavior at the final, which included a lewd crotch grab while next to dignitaries including Spain’s queen and teenage princess, combined with his controversial speech have tarnished the Women’s World Cup title and damaged his own federation.
Spain’s women’s players have said they won’t play again for their nation until big changes are made in the federation. The federation fired coach Jorge Vilda, but the players have yet to say if they consider that sufficient.
The accusation by prosecutors against Rubiales came as the players for Spain’s women’s league began their strike on the opening day of the competition after salary talks with the league broke down. The league, called Liga F, was one of the first soccer institutions to criticize Rubiales’ conduct.
Rubiales, a former player and former head of Spain’s biggest players’ union, has run the federation since 2018. He has boosted revenues and funding for lower-level soccer and the women’s game, but his successes have normally been tinged with scandal.
Rubiales revolutionized the Spanish Super Cup in 2019 by taking it to Saudi Arabia — now the big draw for top European talent like Cristiano Ronaldo — in exchange for $40 million a year. The move was criticized by women’s and human rights groups for the regime’s treatment of women and minorities. Spanish authorities also scrutinized the deal, and an investigative judge is probing the legality of the Super Cup contracts.
Rubiales increased his power by becoming a vice president of European soccer body UEFA, and was supposed to lead the bid by Spain, Portugal and Morocco to host the 2030 men’s World Cup. Spain’s government has since warned that the bid to host one of the world’s biggest sporting events is at risk of being sullied.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer