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Ex-Spain soccer boss Luis Rubiales to face trial over Women’s World Cup kiss

The decision was made by a judge of the National Court as a consequence of a pretrial investigation into an uninvited kiss that sparked a general discussion about sexism in Spanish women’s football.

Recently, a former football luminary of Spain, Luis Rubiales, is set to face legal action for alleged non-consensual kissing of a star player during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony last summer. A judge recommended that he must face a high-profile court decision regarding the incident, which has turned the game upside down in Spain.

The judge also suggested that Mr. Rubiales, along with three officials from the Royal Spanish Football Federation, including Jorge Vilda, removed from the position of the women’s team coach under the pretext of a forced accusation, should face a forced lawsuit for sexual harassment. The legal proceedings come in the aftermath of a controversial kiss initiated by Mr. Rubiales and pressure from player Jennifer Hermoso to show support immediately after the incident.

The judge explicitly stated that the kiss in Sydney, Australia, after the Women’s World Cup final was “non-consensual, unilateral, and a surprising act.” The judge further noted that while the nature of the kiss was more festive than sexual, Mr. Rubiales’ behavior fell within the “intimacy of sexual relations,” holding him accountable.

Government prosecutors and Ms. Hermoso now have ten days to formalize their allegations, followed by a trial. If found guilty of sexual harassment, Mr. Rubiales could face a prison sentence ranging from one to four years.

Mr. Vilda appealed against the judge’s findings on Thursday. Consequently, there is a need to gather more evidence and testimonies related to the case. All parties involved have three days to appeal against the judge’s recommendations.

This decision followed a pre-trial investigation led by Judge Francisco de Jorge, where evidence was presented in a closed-door hearing, involving witnesses, officials, and other players who testified against Mr. Rubiales regarding allegations of sexual harassment. On January 2, the judge also examined videos of the kiss and other recorded footage from a bus after the medal ceremony, where Ms. Hermoso initially spoke about the incident.

Ms. Hermoso, a hopeful participant for Spain in the upcoming Paris Olympic Games this summer, was not immediately available for comments.

The player filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Rubiales in September, three weeks after he forcibly kissed her on live television during the podium celebration after the Women’s World Cup final victory against England. This complaint paved the way for government prosecutors to open a case against Mr. Rubiales for his behavior.

Public reaction to the kiss has overshadowed one of the finest moments in Spanish women’s football, sparking a broader debate about sexism and power imbalances in the sport. The incident reignited decade-old allegations of disrespect and controlling behavior towards female players by male coaches and managers in Spain.

When players from the national team refused to take the field in protest and one of the team’s stars, Alexia Putellas, declared “Enough is enough” in support of Ms. Hermoso, parallels were drawn with the #MeToo movement.

Even Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the kiss as “unacceptable” after the match.

Initially, Mr. Rubiales half-heartedly apologized for his conduct. However, later, he attempted to discredit Ms. Hermoso, claiming that during the celebration, she had “brought me close to her body” during an embrace. After a defiant speech, where he refused to resign and dismissed the allegations as “false feminism,” his colleagues in the football association publicly applauded him.

In response, members of Spain’s women’s national football team and dozens of other athletes signed a petition, stating that they would not play for their country – potentially ending Spain’s chances of an Olympic ticket – “if current managers persist.”

As attention in Spain shifted to the challenging conditions for women in professional football, players from top clubs in Spain staged a strike in September, disrupting the start of the league with demands for lower wages, maternity leave, and harassment protocols.

Mr. Rubiales initially resisted calls for his resignation. However, when an injunction was issued against him by a court less than a month before the World Cup final, he resigned from his position as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation and vice president of UEFA, the European football governing body.

By October, FIFA, the world football governing body, which initially suspended him for 90 days, banned him from playing for three years, citing irregularities in the use of federation funds. Mr. Rubiales is also under investigation for corruption allegations related to the misuse of funds.

Other heads have rolled as well. Rubiales’ close associate Mr. Vilda, entangled in allegations of misconduct towards national team players in 2022, was removed from his position as coach despite leading the team to victory.

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