A judge with Spain’s National Court recommended on Thursday that the country’s onetime soccer boss, Luis Rubiales, be tried on a sexual assault charge over his non-consensual kiss of a star player during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony in Sydney, Australia, last summer.
If found guilty of sexual assault in the case, which upended Spanish women’s soccer and set off a debate about the legacy of sexism in the sport in Spain, Mr. Rubiales would face a prison sentence of one to four years.
The judge also recommended that Mr. Rubiales and three officials with the Royal Spanish Football Federation, soccer’s governing body in the country — including Jorge Vilda, who was fired as the women’s team coach in the wake of the incident — be tried on charges of coercion for exerting pressure on the player, Jennifer Hermoso, to show support for Mr. Rubiales in the immediate aftermath of the kiss.
The ruling was the culmination of a pretrial inquiry, presided over by the judge, Francisco de Jorge, in which witnesses including Ms. Hermoso, officials and other players gave evidence regarding sexual assault accusations against Mr. Rubiales in a closed-door hearing that ended on Jan. 2. The judge also examined videos of the kiss from numerous angles and a video recorded on a bus after the medal ceremony, in which Ms. Hermoso initially seemed to make light of the incident.
Ms. Hermoso, who is expected to play for Spain in the Paris Olympic Games this summer if the country qualifies, was not immediately available for comment.
The player filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Rubiales in September, two and a half weeks after he forcefully kissed her on the lips, on live television, on the podium as the team celebrated its victory over England in the World Cup final. That complaint cleared the way for public prosecutors to open a case against Mr. Rubiales.
Even Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez waded into the post-match fray, calling the kiss “unacceptable.”
Mr. Rubiales initially offered a halfhearted apology for his behavior. But he later tried to shift the blame onto Ms. Hermoso, saying that she had “moved me close to her body” during the embrace. After a defiant speech in which he refused to resign and railed against what he called “false feminism,” he received a standing ovation from his colleagues at the soccer federation.
In response, members of Spain’s women’s national soccer squad and dozens of other players signed an ultimatum, vowing that they would not take the field for their country — potentially blowing Spain’s chances of an Olympic ticket — “if the current managers continue.”
As public attention on working conditions in Spanish women’s soccer grew, players from Spain’s professional clubs disrupted the league’s opening weekends in September by staging a strike over low pay, maternity leave and harassment protocol.
Mr. Rubiales initially resisted calls for his resignation. But when a court issued a restraining order against him less than a month after the World Cup final, he stepped down as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation and as a vice president of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body.
By October, FIFA — soccer’s governing body, which initially suspended him for 90 days over the incident — had barred him from the sport for three years.
Mr. Rubiales is also the subject of an investigation by anticorruption prosecutors over irregularities in the use of federation funds.
Other heads have also rolled. Mr. Vilda, a close Rubiales ally who in 2022 was dogged by accusations of controlling behavior toward national squad players, was fired as the team’s coach in September, despite leading the team to victory in the World Cup a month earlier. He was replaced by Spain’s first female national coach, Montse Tomé.