Spanish court includes former women's soccer coach Vilda in probe over Rubiales kiss

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - Final - Spain v England - Stadium Australia, Sydney, Australia - August 20, 2023 Spain coach Jorge Vilda reacts REUTERS/Carl Recine/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - The investigating judge at Spain's High Court has expanded the scope of a sexual assault probe over the allegedly non-consensual kiss on women's national team player Jenni Hermoso to include Jorge Vilda, the squad's former coach, the court said on Wednesday.

Judge Francisco de Jorge is investigating whether the kiss by soccer federation RFEF's former chief Luis Rubiales during the medal ceremony after Spain's World Cup victory on Aug. 20 - and his alleged subsequent efforts to pressure Hermoso to say it was consensual - constitute sexual abuse and coercion.

Vilda was sacked by interim RFEF president Pedro Rocha 10 days after FIFA suspended Rubiales from his post. The coach was widely criticised for repeatedly applauding Rubiales during an emergency RFEF assembly in which the latter railed against "false feminism" and vowed not to resign.

Originally, only Rubiales was under formal investigation, while other federation officials and players were called as witnesses.

But De Jorge has now also put Vilda, who was the national team's coach during the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand that Spain clinched with a 1-0 victory against England, under investigation, a court statement said.

The statement did not elaborate. Spanish media reports have said Vilda allegedly pressured Hermoso to put out a statement exonerating Rubiales. Vilda has denied those reports.

In addition, the judge changed the status of Albert Luque, the director of the men's squad, and Ruben Rivera, the federation's marketing chief, to "investigated" from previously being just witnesses.

After the controversial kiss, the RFEF issued a statement quoting Hermoso as saying the kiss was a "mutual, totally spontaneous gesture". Hermoso, however, has said she did not want to be kissed, and that she felt "vulnerable and a victim of an aggression".

Two weeks ago, de Jorge imposed a restraining order to prevent Rubiales from approaching Hermoso.

Rubiales' actions not only overshadowed the team's World Cup triumph, but snowballed into a "Me Too" moment that had been building for years as the players fought to combat sexism and achieve parity with their male peers for nearly a decade.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by David Latona, Editing by William Maclean)

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