By Joseph Wilson
Spanish soccer player Jenni Hermoso has accused Luis Rubiales of sexual assault for kissing her on the lips without her consent after the Women’s World Cup final, the country's prosecutors’ office said Wednesday.
Rubiales, the now-suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, kissed Hermoso on the lips during the awards ceremony after Spain beat England to win the title on Aug. 20 in Sydney, Australia.
Rubiales has insisted the kiss was consensual. Hermoso has denied that in statements issued by her and her players' union. She also said she and her family were pressured by the federation to show her support for Rubiales in the immediate aftermath of the scandal caused by the kiss that tarnished her team’s victory.
The prosecutors’ office in Madrid said that, 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. The new law eliminated the difference between “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault,” sanctioning any unconsented sexual act.
Spain’s government, players’ unions, players and many citizens have come out in support of Hermoso. Rubiales, meanwhile, has become a soccer outcast even while he refuses to resign.
Rubiales 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 the body’s disciplinary judges consider his case. FIFA can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport.
The 46-year-old 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.
He could potentially face a no-confidence vote by the federation, a move that the institution has yet to make despite having asked him to resign.
But the decision by Hermoso represents the biggest challenge to Rubiales so far since it could lead to a criminal case.
The prosecutor’s office said Hermoso made the accusation on Tuesday. Prosecutors had said last week that they were going to meet with Hermoso to give her the opportunity to present an accusation against Rubiales. Interim federation president Pedro Rocha is considered an ally of Rubiales.
In that Aug. 26 speech before the federation assembly, Rubiales said that the kiss was “mutual” and like one “I could give one of my daughters.”
Hermoso responded by saying that was a lie.
“I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part,” Hermoso said in a statement posted on social media. "Simply put, I was not respected."
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.
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 torn Spanish soccer apart.
On Tuesday, the federation fired the coach of Spain’s Women's World Cup champion team, Jorge Vilda. Despite leading the team to the title, Vilda was still considered an unpopular figure among its players and close to Rubiales. One year ago, 15 players said they would not play for him until he created a more professional work environment.
After Rubiales refused to step down last week and accused Hermoso of lying, the entire team of World Cup winners plus dozens more players said they would not play again for Spain until the president was gone.
Spain's men's team has also been impacted. Coach Luis de la Fuente had to ask for forgiveness for having applauded Rubiales' sexist-tinged speech to the general assembly. His players also condemned Rubiales' behavior in a statement.
So far, there is no indication that the women players are set to return to the team even after the removal of Vilda.
Spain's left-wing government and its women players hope that the backlash against Rubiales can lead to a reckoning with sexism in soccer.