Former Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales headed into the High Court in Madrid on Friday to face questioning by a judge over a complaint of sexual assault stemming from his allegedly unsolicited kiss on the lips of player Jenni Hermoso.
The incident, which occurred at the medal ceremony after Spain’s women’s team won the World Cup in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 20, has triggered a furore over sexism in Spanish sport and society and led to protests similar to the “Me Too” movement.
Rubiales, 46, insists the kiss was consensual, while Hermoso says it was forced upon her.
Dressed in a black suit over a white shirt, Rubiales arrived at court with his lawyer Olga Tubau 50 minutes before the scheduled hearing, which takes place behind closed doors. He did not speak to the media waiting outside.
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 his position on Sept. 10.
But he remains unrepentant, saying he acted with consent in a moment of celebration and joy.
As he went to court, women players, including the World Cup-wining squad, said they would continue their boycott of the national side until there were changes in the federation set-up.
Rubiales’ court appearance concerns a complaint filed by state prosecutor Marta Durantez Gil with the High Court after Hermoso told prosecutors that Rubiales kissed her on the mouth without her consent while holding her head with both hands.
The prosecutor added a possible crime of coercion after Hermoso said she and her relatives were put under pressure by Rubiales and his entourage to say that she approved what happened.
Judge Francisco de Jorge is in charge of the investigation, which must precede any formal charges under Spanish law and will decide whether the case goes to trial. If it does, he could face between one and four years imprisonment if found guilty.
“In criminal proceedings, being able to prove consent becomes crucial,” legal expert Gonzalo Jimenez, partner at law firm Martinez Echevarria, told Reuters.
It was important to prove malice or intentionality, as in sexual assault cases only malicious, intended acts are punished, he said.
De Jorge has ordered media, including state broadcaster TVE, to send him footage of the incident and subsequent videos such as one with the players celebrating on a bus with Rubiales and referring to the kiss in what appeared to be a light-hearted 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 campaign coalescing around the hashtag #SeAcabó (It’s Over) on social media.
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 in 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.
Spain’s male-dominated football establishment was dealt another blow on Thursday after police arrested three Real Madrid youth players for allegedly distributing a sexual video featuring a minor.
The mother of a 16-year-old in the Canary Islands filed a complaint about the video that she said was taken without her consent, police said.