Prosecuting former Spanish football official Luis Rubiales for kissing a Women’s World Cup-winning player on the lips without her consent seems “completely illogical", UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has suggested.
Spanish state prosecutors are investigating Jenni Hermoso’s accusations against Rubiales of sexual assault for the kiss and coercion for then pressuring her to defend him.
A restraining order was issued by a judge in Madrid last week that prohibits Rubiales from being within 200 metres of Hermoso.
Rubiales denied both accusations at the closed-door hearing.
Ceferin, who was a criminal defence lawyer before being elected UEFA president in 2016, said in an interview in his native Slovenia that “what Rubiales did was inappropriate and not understandable".
“But when I read it was deemed as a felony – as a lawyer, that seems completely illogical,” Ceferin told Slovenian media outlet N1.
Rubiales faced a torrent of criticism from Spanish government and football circles. It was fuelled in part by his own defiance and refusal to resign as national football federation president in the week after the incident, even after world body FIFA opened an investigation and then suspended him.
A sexual consent law passed in Spain last year eliminated the difference between “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault". If Rubiales is sent to trial, he could face a fine or a prison sentence of one to four years if found guilty of sexual assault.
Ceferin said his advice in conversations with Rubiales had been to resign. Three weeks after Spain’s women became world champion, Rubiales did step down as president of the federation and as a vice president of UEFA.
One day later, UEFA published its first public statement about Rubiales since the final in which it noted his resignation – and the “public discourse” about his actions – before thanking him for his years of service to European football.
Ceferin’s interview with N1 was his second public comment on the scandal in the past month. The first was 10 days after the final, telling French daily L’Equipe the conduct was inappropriate and UEFA must do more for women players.
“You (journalists) brought this story to this level of importance, through the media,” Ceferin told the N1 reporter.
Ceferin added there had been talks about a code of conduct to set clearer limits on acceptable behaviour in women’s football. He also expected UEFA to create more places for women officials in the organisation.
The UEFA president gave the interview on the sidelines of a charity football game he helped organise in Llubljana with retired greats playing to support recovery work from floods in Slovenia last month.