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World Cup soccer kiss could lead to Spanish sexual assault charge

Prosecutors want Luis Rubiales charged for kissing player Jenni Hermoso during awards ceremony
FILE - Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso reacts after missing a scoring chance during the Women’s World Cup Group C soccer match between Japan and Spain in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, July 31, 2023. Spanish state prosecutors say 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. (AP Photo/John Cowpland, File)

Spanish state prosecutors have accused Luis Rubiales of sexual assault and coercion for kissing a player on the lips without her consent after the Women’s World Cup final, the country’s prosecutors’ office said Friday.

Rubiales, the now-suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, kissed Jenni Hermoso during the awards ceremony after Spain beat England to win the title on Aug. 20 in Sydney. Prosecutors presented their case for potential criminal charges against Rubiales to Spain’s National Court in Madrid two days after Hermoso formally accused him of sexual assault.

FIFA suspended Rubiales from his post 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.” He was banned from his post for 90 days while FIFA disciplinary judges consider his case. Soccer’s governing body can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport.

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 of sexual assault. The new law eliminated the difference between “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault,” sanctioning any unconsented sexual act.

Prosecutors added Friday that Rubiales could have committed an act of coercion when, according to Hermoso, he pressured her to speak out in his defense immediately after the scandal erupted.

Rubiales has insisted the kiss was consensual. Hermoso has denied that in statements issued by her and her players union.

Prosecutors have asked that Rubiales appear before a court to give preliminary testimony. If the National Court judge agrees to the hear the case, a formal court investigation would follow, ending with a recommendation for the case to either be dismissed or go to trial.

The National Court said Judge Francisco de Jorge will consider the lawsuit.

The prosecutor’s office also recommended that the court ask Australian counterparts for information on sexual assault laws there. The two countries have a treaty of mutual assistance between their courts.

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. She returned to her Mexican club Thursday.

The 46-year-old Rubiales faces threats other than a possible criminal trial.

Rubiales also faces action from the Spanish government. A government legal panel overseeing sports has opened an investigation 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.

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 drawn attention away from the Women’s World Cup title and damaged his own federation.

Spain’s women’s players have said they won’t play again for their nation until big changes are made in the federation. The federation fired coach Jorge Vilda, but the players have yet to say if they consider that sufficient.

The accusation by prosecutors against Rubiales came as the players for Spain’s women’s league began their strike on the opening day of the competition after salary talks with the league broke down. The league, called Liga F, was one of the first soccer institutions to criticize Rubiales’ conduct.

Rubiales, a former player and former head of Spain’s biggest players’ union, has run the federation since 2018. He has boosted revenues and funding for lower-level soccer and the women’s game, but his successes have normally been tinged with scandal.

Rubiales revolutionized the Spanish Super Cup in 2019 by taking it to Saudi Arabia — now the big draw for top European talent like Cristiano Ronaldo — in exchange for $40 million a year. The move was criticized by women’s and human rights groups for the regime’s treatment of women and minorities. Spanish authorities also scrutinized the deal, and an investigative judge is probing the legality of the Super Cup contracts.

Rubiales increased his power by becoming a vice president of European soccer body UEFA, and was supposed to lead the bid by Spain, Portugal and Morocco to host the 2030 men’s World Cup. Spain’s government has since warned that the bid to host one of the world’s biggest sporting events is at risk of being sullied.

READ ALSO: FIFA suspends Spanish soccer president for 90 days after World Cup final kiss