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Criminal trial for Spain's former soccer head is proposed for his unwanted kiss

Spanish soccer star Jenni Hermoso testified before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional court in Madrid on Jan. 2 about her interaction with Luis Rubiales, the disgraced former head of Spain's soccer federation.
Pierre-Philippe Marcou
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AFP via Getty Images
Spanish soccer star Jenni Hermoso testified before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional court in Madrid on Jan. 2 about her interaction with Luis Rubiales, the disgraced former head of Spain's soccer federation.

It was Jenni Hermoso's moment, as she stood at the pinnacle of her sport. But the head of Spain's soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, then forcibly kissed Hermoso on the lips during last year's Women's World Cup gold medal ceremony, sparking outrage and leading to Rubiales being banned from the sport.

A Spanish judge is now proposing that Rubiales be tried in criminal court. He also says three men who repeatedly pressured Hermoso to absolve Rubiales of any blame — by allegedly acting together in an attempt "to break the will" of the star forward — could also face related charges. The group includes Jorge Vilda, Hermoso's former coach on Spain's women's national team.

Judge Francisco de Jorge of Spain's Audiencia Nacional, a central high court with sweeping jurisdiction, found that Rubiales' kiss in Sydney, Australia, last August was not consensual, according to a news release from the court on Thursday.

The veteran player was taken aback and initially tried to brush off the incident, the judge said. But she became increasingly uncomfortable with what had happened, and her unease was magnified by persistent pressure to make a video saying that the kiss had been consensual, the judge said.

The magistrate said his investigation found the kiss "was not consensual and was a unilateral and surprising initiative."

Former president of the Spanish football federation Luis Rubiales visited the Audiencia Nacional court in Madrid last September with his lawyer, Olga Tubau. A judge at the court backs a criminal case against Rubiales moving forward.
Thomas Coex / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Former president of the Spanish football federation Luis Rubiales visited the Audiencia Nacional court in Madrid last September with his lawyer, Olga Tubau. A judge at the court backs a criminal case against Rubiales moving forward.

Fallout from the unwanted kiss did more than ruin a moment of elation at winning a world title, the judge said. He described how the pressure on Hermoso quickly came to include people close to her. At Rubiales' request, the judge said, the player's coach found her brother on the plane flying back to Spain from Australia to ask him to convince her to make a video about the kiss, saying that if she didn't, her pro soccer career would suffer.

After arriving in Spain, the women's team went to Ibiza to celebrate their historic achievement. But on that trip, soccer executives continued to press Hermoso and her circle through phone calls and WhatsApp messages, according to the judge.

Despite Hermoso saying she didn't want to discuss the matter — and also saying she was exhausted after the grueling tournament — the judge said she was repeatedly asked to absolve Rubiales by Albert Luque, the national team's director, and Rubén Rivera, the sporting federation's marketing chief.

The two men also tried to pressure Hermoso through a friend of hers, the judge said, adding that the cumulative effect was "a situation of anxiety and intense stress" for the highly regarded player.

Both Rivera and Luque remain in their jobs at the Royal Spanish Football Federation, or RFEF, according to postings on its website from last month.

Hermoso lodged an official complaint against Rubiales last September. Days later, prosecutors accused him of sexual assault and coercion.

As El País has reported, a change in Spain's sexual consent laws means that if Rubiales is found guilty, he could face a prison sentence of up to four years.

"The new law eliminated the difference between "sexual harassment" and "sexual assault," the newspaper reported last fall.

The judge's order doesn't specify any potential criminal charges against Rubiales and the other Spanish sporting officials. But it notes that there is sufficient evidence to sustain a criminal accusation. And the order moves the matter closer to a trial, informing both the prosecutor's office and the accused that they have 10 days to request an oral trial. There, the two sides could seek a formal accusation or move to dismiss the case, according to the court.

At the turn of the new year, Hermoso announced she had signed a contract to play for Tigres Femenil of Mexico's Liga MX Femenil.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.