Spanish prosecutors on Monday announced they have launched an investigation into potential criminal charges for sexual aggression against Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales in response to Rubiales kissing star player Jennifer Hermoso at the medal ceremony following Spain winning the Women’s World Cup on Aug. 20.
On Saturday, FIFA chairman of discipline Jorge Ivan Palacio provisionally suspended Rubiales for 90 days. The suspension comes after RFEF threatened to “initiate the appropriate legal actions” against Hermoso and Spain’s Association of Professional Soccer Players (FUTPRO) over their depiction of the kiss.
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Hermoso, who is the women’s national team’s all-time leading scorer, has stated she “felt vulnerable” when Rubiales kissed her. She says she is “a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part.”
However, RFEF released a statement allegedly quoting Hermoso, 33, as saying the kiss was “a mutual gesture that was totally spontaneous due to the immense joy of winning a World Cup.”
Rubiales, 46, vows he won’t resign. He describes the kiss as “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual” and one he would give his own daughters.
In a website post, RFEF claims that Hermoso “gripped” and held Rubiales in their embrace, and that Rubiales’ “feet are clearly and conspicuously off the ground due to the force applied by the player.”
A video of the incident is here.
Meanwhile, Hermoso and her teammates, along with other pro women players, say they will not play for the national team until Rubiales is removed. Members of the coaching staff have quit, and Spain coach Jorge Vilda on Saturday criticized Rubiales, saying his behavior was “unacceptable” and “inappropriate.” Vilda added he “condemns without any doubt” the “macho attitude” apparent in Rubiales’ conduct.
Members of the Spanish government have similarly denounced Rubiales and called for a hearing before a sports tribunal. Spain’s Higher Council for Sports, a government agency, accuses Rubiales of abusing power and tarnishing the dignity of sports. The government cannot directly fire Rubiales.
The suspension, which supplies FIFA with time to investigate and to adhere to procedural safeguards, sidelines Rubiales from all soccer-related activities. Both he and other federation officials are barred from contacting Hermoso and those close to her. RFEF vice president Pedro Rocha Junco will assume the presidency on an interim basis while Rubiales is suspended.
An unwanted kiss in the workplace can be considered grounds for termination with cause, and as harassment or battery in that it is a nonconsensual physical act. There are multiple factors that can determine the legal consequences, including the intent of the person attempting to kiss, the context of the situation—Rubiales being the boss of the organization Hermoso works for is an important power dynamic—and prior interactions involving the two persons.
The conflicting statements attributed to Hermoso could indicate she was pressured to provide a favorable statement about Rubiales that ran counter to what she actually believed.
Potential legal action initiated by RREF would likely fall under Spanish reputation and privacy laws, including “calumnia” (slander), and consist of an assertion that Hermoso has wrongfully accused Rubiales of an unwanted sexual act. Hermoso would argue that her statements are true.
(This story has been updated in the first paragraph to reflect the news that the Spanish government is investigating potential criminal charges against Rubiales.)