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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Controversial Kiss Could Mean 30 Months for Spain’s Ex-Football Head

Updated: Mar 29


At a congratulations lineup after Spain’s victory in the Women’s World Cup, the male president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation kissed a woman player on the mouth on August 20, 2023.

It was as though she was one of his to kiss.

A French baron killed an Iberian lynx at the Tagus River outside Lisbon in the 19th century.

It was as though it was one of his to kill.


It is an antiquated and arrogant way of living in the world, treating other people and wild animals as though they belong to someone.

They do not.

They deserve respect.

It became illegal in the 1970s to kill Iberian lynxes in Portugal and Spain.

And women’s football in Spain?

Before the controversial kiss, Spain’s women’s national team had called unsuccessfully for institutional change several times.

Luis Rubiales, 46, resigned president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, said that the kiss was consensual, which Jennifer Hermoso, 33, midfielder of Spain’s women’s national football team, denied strongly. She said that she felt that she was the “victim of aggression”.


Spanish prosecutors are seeking a prison term of two years and six months for Rubiales, according to an indictment seen by CNN, reported CNN (March 28). The Public Ministry accused Rubiales formally of sexual assault in kissing Hermoso “without consent or acceptance.”  


The indictment carries one count of sexual assault and one of coercion in the aftermath of the kiss, offenses carrying prison terms of one year and 18 months, respectively, reported The Guardian (March 27).


Prosecutor Marta Durántez also accused the former coach of the women’s national team, Jorge Vilda; the team’s current sporting director, Albery Luque, and the federation’s head of marketing, Ruben Rivera, of coercing Hermoso into saying the kiss was consensual, reported BBC News (March 27). The indictment said that they harassed her through “constant and repeated acts of pressure” on her as well as her family and friends.


All three denied wrongdoing when they appeared before the court, according to BBC News. If convicted, each could face up to 18 months in prison.


In addition, Durántez requested that the four men pay damages €100,000 ($108,000; £85,677) to Hermoso and for Rubiales to pay at least half of this amount.


In addition to the prison sentence and damages, the prosecution asked that Rubiales be prohibited from working in sports during the same period of the sentence, reported Observador (March 27). Prosecutors also requested that Rubiales be banned from contacting Hermoso and a restraining order barring him from coming within 200 meters (656 feet) of Hermoso for four years.


If convicted and sentenced, Rubiales may not necessarily have to serve time in prison, reported The Guardian. Spain’s criminal code allows judges to “exceptionally” suspend jail terms if – as in this case – none of the sentences imposed exceeds two years.


Rubiales Faces Detainment in Corruption Probe

On March 21, in a separate investigation, it was reported that Rubiales will be detained when he returns to Spain on April 6, reported Público (March 21). The former president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation is one of the targets of a probe into alleged criminal actions associated with corporate corruption and money laundering.


Rubiales’ lawyer said that she does not know whether her client will be arrested as the EFE news agency reported on March 20. She said: “We want to make it clear that Mr. Rubiales is available, before justice, to provide all clarifications about the ongoing investigation.”


The investigation involves alleged irregularities in contracts signed by the Spanish football federation since 2018 when Rubiales was president. Rubiales has been in the Dominican Republic for about a month, which was known to the judge and investigators.

Judge Proposes Trial

On January 25, a Spanish judge proposed that Rubiales should stand trial along with three of his colleagues who are accused of pressuring Hermoso to say that the kiss had been consensual, BBC News (January 25).

The three are Jorge Vilda, the former women's team coach, Rubén Rivera, the football federation's former marketing manager, and Albert Luque, director of the men's team, reported Jornal de Notícias (January 25).

During a hearing at the Audiencia Nacional, or High Court, in Madrid, Judge Francisco de Jorge described the kiss as "not consensual and . . . a unilateral and surprising initiative."

Lawyers involved in the proceedings have 10 days to introduce a formal trial request before a court.

Hermoso Testifies World Cup Kiss Wasn't Consensual

On January 2, Hermoso, Spain’s top scorer, testified to a Madrid court for about two and a half hours, reiterating, according to the Spanish media, that the kiss was “unexpected and at no time consensual”, reported BBC News (January 2).


Hermoso’s testimony corroborated that of several witnesses who were heard in court last week at a stage in which investigation of the case is ongoing, reported Público (January 2).

On October 30, 2023, FIFA (Federation Internationale of Football Association) banned Rubiales from all football-related activities for three years, reported CNN (October 30, 2023).

In a statement released on October 30, FIFA said that Rubiales’ actions were in breach of article 13 of its disciplinary code.

“FIFA reiterates its absolute commitment to respecting and protecting the integrity of all people and ensuring that the basic rules of decent conduct are upheld.”

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Rubiales said that he is going to appeal FIFA’s decision “so that justice is served and the truth shines”.

Jennifer Hermoso made a memorable return to football the week of October 23, 2023, scoring in the 89th minute to give the world champions a 1-0 victory over Italy and ensuring that the team, La Roja, remained top of its Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Women’s Nations League group.

Women Footballers End Boycott

On September 20, 2023, the majority of the women’s team agreed to end its boycott after the football federation said that it would make “immediate and profound changes”, reported Reuters (September 20, 2023).

As part of the deal, between six and nine senior officials will be invited to leave their jobs or be sacked, a source told Reuters shortly before the federation announced that it had fired its secretary general, Andreu Camps.

Two players, Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro, said that they did not feel mentally ready to return and that they needed to “see a process” of change. They will, however, not face sanctions.

Spain was scheduled to play in the Women’s Nations League against Sweden in Gothenburg on September 22, 2023, before playing Switzerland in Cordoba on September 26, 2023.

Rubiales Gets Restraining Order

On September 15, 2023, the judge of the Spanish National Court, Francisco de Jorge, issued a 200-meter (656 feet) restraining order for Luis Rubiales with respect to Jennifer Hermoso after declaring that Rubiales is being investigated for the alleged crimes of sexual assault and coercion for the kiss of Hermoso, reported La Vanguardia (September 15, 2023).

The judge also prohibited Rubiales from communicating with Hermoso during the investigation of the case.

In addition, the magistrate rejected the request of the Prosecutor’s Office to impose appearances in court every 15 days on Rubiales to ensure that he was still available, as well as the request of Hermoso’s lawyer to seize preventatively the defendant’s assets.

Hours earlier, at Rubiales’ first court appearance, both the lieutenant prosecutor and Hermoso’s defense had demanded a 500-meter (1,640 feet) restraining order with respect to Hermoso. They also had requested the prohibition of communicating with her by any means during the investigation as well as biweekly appearances in court, according to legal sources.

Beginning at noon, Rubiales testified for one hour before the head of the Central Court of Instruction, answering questions from the judge, prosecutor and Hermoso’s defense attorney and denying both the lack of consent for the kiss, which he said was a kiss of respect and affection outside of the scope of sexual assault and subsequent coercion. Being under investigation, he could have refused to respond to all parties.


Rubiales arriving at the Spanish National Court with his lawyer, Olga Tubau, one of the best criminal lawyers in the country (Photo by Dani Duch)


Rubiales’ Renowned Lawyer

After his testimony, Rubiales left the National Court, without making a statement to the crowd of journalists outside, and left in a taxi, accompanied by his lawyer, Olga Tubau.

“Methodical to the point of exhaustion, tough and relentless when the occasion warrants it, always meticulous, Olga Tubau (Paris, 1961) is one of the most respected lawyers for her capacity for work and talent,” reported Publico (September 15, 2023).

Tubau is, perhaps, best known for the 2020 acquittal of the Mossos d’Esquadra Major Josep Lluis Trapero. The Mossos d’Esquadra is the autonomous police force in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia. In October 2017, after the Catalan independence referendum, Trapero was accused of sedition by Spanish prosecutors for allegedly refusing to carry out judicial orders ad obstructing a police investigation.

The referendum had been declared unconstitutional and suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court in September 2017, and the High Court of Justice of Catalonia had issued orders to the police to prevent the illegal referendum.

If Found Guilty

If found guilty of sexual assault, Rubiales could face prison.

“In some cases, that punishment might even be increased,” criminal lawyer, Marta Soto, of the Barcelona-based law firm Auris Advocats, told ESPN (September 11, 2023).

Criminal law professor, Emilio Cortes, told COPE radio on September 8, 2023, according to ESPN: “If it’s considered that there was violence, intimidation or abuse of authority, the penalty could be between one and five years.”

In the event of a guilty verdict, the judge would determine whether the sentence should fall toward the higher or lower end, or even be reduced to a fine.

“In the Rubiales case, if found guilty, I believe that a prison sentence in the lower half of the range would be handed down,” the lawyer, Soto, told ESPN. “Given that a kiss like this might be considered of lesser importance and, as far as we know, this would be Rubiales’ first offense . . . In my view, it would be improbable that he ends up serving time in prison.”

On September 12, 2023, Spain’s National Court summoned Rubiales, who recently resigned as president of the Spanish football federation, to court as a defendant on September 15, 2023, reported El Pais (September 12, 2023).

On September 11, 2023, la Audiencia Nacional (National Court) said that it had admitted the complaint against Rubiales for the alleged crimes of “sexual assault and coercion”, according to CNN en Espanol (September 12, 2023).

Rubiales Resigns

On September 10, 2023, three weeks after fierce criticism of the kiss and demand for his resignation, Rubiales left his position as head of the Spanish football federation, reported El Pais (September 10, 2023). He released a statement saying that he had submitted his resignation to federation acting president Pedro Rocha.

“I cannot continue my work, Rubiales said on Piers Morgan Uncensored, a British chat show, according to BBC Sport (September 10, 2023).

Rubiales also has resigned from his position as vice-president of the Union of European Football Association’s executive committee.

“After the quick suspension carried out by FIFA (Federation Internationale of Football Association), plus the rest of open proceedings against me, it is evident that I will not be able to return to my position,” read Rubiales’ statement.

“Insisting on waiting and holding on is not going to contribute to anything positive, neither to the federation nor to Spanish football.”

Rubiales said that he hoped his departure would boost Spain’s joint bid with Portugal and Morocco to host the 2030 World Cup. (On October 4, 2023, the three countries won the bid.)

He added, “I have faith in the truth, and I will do everything in my power to prevail.

“My daughters, my family and the people who love me have suffered the effects of excessive persecution, as well as many falsehoods, but it is also true that on the street, more and more every day, the truth is prevailing.”

Hermoso at Prosecutor's Office

On September 6, 2023, Hermoso formalized her complaint about Rubiales' kiss at the Spanish Court Prosecutor’s Office in person, reported (September 6, 2023). Her legal complaint means that Rubiales could face criminal charges and prison.

On August 28, 2023, the prosecution opened a preliminary investigation into whether the incident was a crime of sexual assault. It gave Hermoso 15 days to join the procedure by formalizing her complaint.

On September 4, 2023, the Royal Spanish Football Federation fired Jorge Vilda, 42, Spain’s women’s football head coach, reported BBC Sport (September 4, 2023). It did not give a specific reason but called the move “one of the first renewal measures”.

On August 29, 2023, the Spanish federation stripped its president, Luis Rubiales, of his salary and official car after it demanded that he must resign immediately, reported CNN (August 29, 2023).

On September 1, 2023, Rubiales issued a statement to Spanish media, saying that he had “obviously made some mistakes, which I sincerely regret” but described an “unprecedented political and media lynching”, reported The Guardian (September 6, 2023). He vowed to continue to defend himself in order to “prove the truth”.

In Rubiales' speech on August 25, 2023, before the Spanish football federation, his defiant, “I will not resign. I will not resign. I will not resign,” was followed by applause and standing ovations.

On August 28, eight days after the kiss on August 20, Spanish football federation regional leaders did an about-face. They called on their president to resign immediately, reported BBC Sport (August 28), which Rubiales previously had refused to do with the backing of the association.

Also, on August 28, 2023, hundreds of people gathered in the center of Madrid in support of Hermoso.

That evening, Rubiales’ mother, Angeles Bejar, locked herself in a church in Motril, Granada, in Spain while on a hunger strike in protest of the “inhuman hunt” against her son. On the third day of her strike, on August 30, 2023, Bejar was taken to a hospital, which released her the next day, reported BBC Sport (September 4, 2023).

FIFA Provisionally Suspends Rubiales

On August 26, 2023, FIFA (Federation Internationale of Football Association) slapped Rubiales with a 90-day suspension, reported BBC News (August 26, 2023).

Rubiales had brushed aside any suggestion that the kiss of Hermoso was inappropriate. “It was a kiss between two friends celebrating something,” he told the broadcaster, COPE, on August 20, 2023, according to The Guardian (August 21, 2023), dismissing those who saw it differently as “idiots and stupid people”. He added: “Let’s ignore them and enjoy the good things.”

After the temporary suspension, Rubiales vowed to prove his “complete innocence”.

Also, before his suspension, but on the same day, the Spanish football association backed Rubiales’ story and threatened to take legal action against Hermoso.

Speaking on the Spanish broadcaster, Cadena Ser, presenter Jose Luis Sastre said in The Guardian (August 21, 2023):

“In the hundreds of celebrations that we’ve seen between Rubiales and male players, he didn’t grab any of them by the head in order to give them a kiss without asking.”

Coaches' Mass Resignation

The FutPro union, which represents Hermoso, released a statement signed by 81 players, including the 23 who won the World Cup, in which the athletes announced that they would not play with the Spanish football team if Rubiales remained in his position, reported BBC News.

Four days after the kiss, Rubiales adamantly refused to resign despite criticism from other footballers, Spain’s prime minister and the media.

A mass resignation of 11 members of the women’s team coaching staff left only one, the head coach, Jorge Vilda, who was sacked on September 4.

Several female staff members said that they had been forced to sit in the front row during Rubiales’ address on August 25, 2023, to the Spanish football federation in an attempt to show their support for him. It was one of the reasons listed for their resignation.

Vilda, the coach who had not resigned, had applauded Rubiales’ speech but, on the night of August 26, 2023, he called Rubiales' behavior “inappropriate and unacceptable”.

Vilda and Rubiales had been allies in September 2022 when 15 national team players pulled out of the squad, saying that the manager’s management was affecting their emotional state and health, reported BBC Sport (August 26, 2023).

“While Rubiales has increased RFEF (Royal Spanish Football Federation) revenue and led a (joint) bid (by Spain, Portugal and Morocco) to bring the World Cup to the country in 2030, his tenure also has been marked by controversial incidents and allegations against him,” according to ESPN (August 28, 2023).

Hermoso: "Continuous Pressure" for Statement Justifying Rubiales' Act

According to BBC News, in a statement published on Twitter on August 25, 2023, Hermoso said that she had been under “continuous pressure to come up with a statement that could justify the act of Mr. Luis Rubiales.”

Indeed, in an official statement from the Spanish football federation, she was quoted as saying, “It was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the immense joy that winning a World Cup brings,” reported The Guardian.

Hermoso continued in BBC News:

“Not only that, but in different ways and through different people, the RFEF (Royal Spanish Football Association) has pressured my environment (family, friends, colleagues, etc.) to give testimony that has little or nothing to do with my feelings.”

Hermoso signed her statement with the hashtag "SeAcabo (It’s Over). Her teammates added their voices: “It’s over”.

Athletes from other countries joined the virtual cry.

According to BBC News, Guillem Balague, a Spanish football expert, wrote:

"A Guy Out of Touch With Reality"

“It’s the story not just about a guy who’s completely out of touch with reality, but who has recreated his own world in his little castle, surrounded by acolytes and people that see the world the same as him.

“But they have become a minority, and their way of looking at the world has become exposed.

“The system has to change.”

“It’s an opportunity even for the journalists writing about the story to make changes – to bring more women, and more people from the minorities onto news desks, to understand how the world really runs and how to make it better.

“So, it’s a chance, a big chance, to move things forward.”

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