By Emma Pinedo and David Latona
MADRID (Reuters) -Spain’s High Court on Friday imposed a restraining order to prevent former soccer chief Luis Rubiales approaching national team player Jenni Hermoso, as he appeared in court to be investigated for sexual assault for kissing her on the lips.
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 prompted protests similar to the “Me Too” movement.
Rubiales, 46, insists the kiss was consensual, while Hermoso says it was forced on her.
The order prevents Rubiales trying to contact Hermoso or coming within 200 metres of her, according to a court statement. Judge Francisco de Jorge rejected a request by the prosecution that Rubiales should report to the court every two weeks.
Dressed in a black suit over a white shirt, Rubiales left the High Court in Madrid with his lawyer Olga Tubau following a closed-door investigative hearing that lasted about an hour. He did not speak to the media waiting outside.
During the testimony, Rubiales denied the accusations, according to a statement by the prosecutor’s office.
After weeks of resisting calls from players, politicians and women’s groups to step down as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Rubiales finally quit on Sept. 10.
But he remains unrepentant, saying he acted with consent in a moment of celebration and joy.
As he went to court, local media reported that female players, including the World Cup-wining squad, planned to continue their boycott of the national side until there were further changes in the federation set-up.
After Hermoso told prosecutors that Rubiales kissed her on the mouth without her consent while holding her head with both hands – a moment seen by millions on television – state prosecutor Marta Durantez Gil filed a judicial complaint.
She added a possible crime of coercion after Hermoso said she and her relatives had been put under pressure by Rubiales and his entourage to say that she had approved what happened.
De Jorge leads 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 be jailed for between one and four years.
“In criminal proceedings, being able to prove consent becomes crucial,” said legal expert Gonzalo Jimenez, partner at law firm Martinez Echevarria.
He said it was important to prove malice or intentionality to make a sexual action punishable as assault.
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.
“We can stand up what we said from the beginning. It was a kiss without consent, everyone saw the images,” Hermoso’s lawyer Carla Vall told reporters after the hearing.
The legal case will also be a public test of the leftist coalition government’s flagship “Solo sí es sí” (Only yes is yes) law, which 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 when police arrested three Real Madrid youth players on suspicion of distributing a sexual video featuring a minor.
The mother of a 16-year-old in the Canary Islands filed a complaint about the video, which she said had been taken without her consent, police said.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Fernando Kallas, David Latona, Marco Trujillo, Elena Rodriguez and Michael Gore; writing by Charlie Devereux; editing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan, Kevin Liffey and Toby Chopra)