Former Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales headed to the Madrid high court on Friday to face questions from a judge regarding a sexual assault complaint stemming from his “unsolicited” kiss on the lips of player Jenni Hermoso.
The incident, which occurred at the medal ceremony after that country’s women’s team won the World Cup in Sydney, Australia, on August 20, has triggered a furore over sexism in Spanish sport and society, and led to protests similar to those associated with the “Me Too” movement.
Rubiales, 46, insists the kiss was consensual, while Hermoso says it was forced upon her.
After weeks of resisting calls from players, politicians and women’s groups for him to step down as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Rubiales finally quit on September 10.
However, he remains unrepentant, saying he acted with consent in a moment of celebration and joy.
More than 80 of Spain’s top female players, including the 23 world champions, have refused to play for the national team until there are changes to the RFEF management line-up and style.
On Friday, the players told the RFEF they would continue with their boycott despite Rubiales’ resignation and the replacement of team coach Jorge Vilda with his assistant Montse Tome.
Rubiales also faces a possible crime of coercion after Hermoso said she and her relatives were put under pressure by him and his entourage to say she approved what happened.
The high court investigation will decide whether the case goes to trial. If it does and he is found guilty, Rubiales could face up to four years behind bars.
“In criminal proceedings, being able to prove consent becomes crucial,” legal expert Gonzalo Jimenez told Reuters.
It is important to prove malice or intentionality, as in sexual assault cases only malicious, intended acts are punished, he said.
Judge Francisco de Jorge, who is presiding over Friday’s investigation, has ordered the media to send him footage of the incident and subsequent videos, such as the one in which players celebrated on a bus with Rubiales and referred to the kiss in what appeared to be a lighthearted manner. The investigation could take several months.
The legal case will also be a public test of the leftist coalition government’s flagship “Solo si es si” (Only yes is yes) law that puts consent at the heart of sexual relations.
Many players, sports bodies and politicians have backed Hermoso in a social media campaign hashtagged #SeAcabó (It’s Over).
Spain’s male-dominated football establishment was dealt another blow on Thursday when police arrested three Real Madrid youth players for allegedly distributing a sexual video featuring a minor.