Tactical Insights

Dani Alves was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for rape. Why has he been released?

On the morning of Monday, 25 March, Dani Alves was released from the Brians 2 prison to the north west of Barcelona, where he had been held for the past 14 months.

Walking alongside his lawyer Ines Guardiola, his head was held high and he wore a look of defiance as he moved confidently. It was very different to how he appeared during his three-day trial for rape in February, when he claimed innocence through a cracked voice, his head lowered and eyes rather blank.

Alves would have been released on the previous Friday, if he had managed to raise the €1million ($860,000; $1.1m) bail in time. He had until 2pm, and was even granted an extra hour to avoid spending the weekend in prison. He finally provided the funds on the Monday, and local media reported that he held a party that went on until 5am at his Barcelona mansion to celebrate.

Alves was found guilty of raping a 23-year-old woman on the night of December 30, 2022, in a Barcelona nightclub and was sentenced to four and a half years in jail. But now he has been released.

It is disconcerting that what was initially described as a key procedure in Spain — the first high-profile case since the introduction of a new law designed to bring greater powers to prosecutors pursuing cases of sexual assault — has taken this turn.

Alves’ case was one of the first sexual assault prosecutions in which everything appeared to be applied flawlessly from the outset.



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The Sutton nightclub, where the rape took place, did not hesitate to activate its anti-sexual assault protocol, despite having a relationship with Alves, one of its regular customers.

The young victim, encouraged also by her friends, allowed forensic experts to take the biological evidence that was required and made a complaint to the police.

Officers acted quickly, and Alves was arrested on January 20. The Brazilian former Barcelona player was held in pre-trial detention as he was considered a flight risk. Court officials noted his wealth and the fact his native Brazil has no extradition agreements with Spain.

Alves and his lawyer Ines Guardiola, on March 28, outside a Barcelona court (David Zorrakino/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Alves remained in detention for a little over a year until his trial was held. This was something unusual and rarely seen with a figure of his status. The sentence — despite falling short of the nine years requested by public prosecutors — felt like another significant step forward. Lawyers specialising in cases of sexual assault and rape spoken to for this article describe it as a progressive judgement compared with what has come before in Spain.

But even at the time, some aspects of it were still uncomfortable — and that feeling has only grown stronger since.



Barcelona are still honouring Dani Alves as a ‘legend’, despite his rape conviction

First, it was surprising that, despite the court ruling stating damage done in a sexual assault cannot be healed with money, magistrates still considered a €150,000 sum Alves paid before the trial a “mitigating factor” when settling on his four-and-a-half-year jail term. The family of Alves’ former Brazil and Barcelona team-mate Neymar helped provide those funds.

The €1million bail was established after Alves’ legal team successfully petitioned for him to serve his sentence outside of jail while various appeals were submitted against the initial ruling. It is still not fully established who helped Alves put up that money — or whether it came from his own funds. One Spanish media report suggested it was arranged through a Brazilian magazine that had paid him the sum for an exclusive interview.

Rumours suggested that the family of Neymar had once again paid the bail — but this was denied by the player’s father in a social media post.

To secure his release, Alves also had to surrender his Spanish and Brazilian passports, and he will have to report weekly to a Barcelona court. He is banned from being within 1km of the victim and is forbidden from contacting her by any means.

Sonia Ricondo, a lawyer specialising in gender violence, says the decision to allow Alves to leave prison with only 14 months of his jail term served is not legally unusual.

She adds that the move to release him — voted through by magistrates at the High Justice Court of Catalonia with a majority count of three to one — has everything to do with how long the appeal process might be expected to take. According to reports in Spain, this could be as long as two years. Alves is appealing against his conviction, while state prosecutors and the victim’s legal team are appealing for him to be punished more severely.

Ester Garcia, the lawyer of Alves’ victim, after sentencing on February 22 (David Zorrakino/Europa Press via Getty Images)

“If Dani Alves had not been granted provisional release, he could serve practically his entire sentence while awaiting the appeal decision,” Ricondo says. “If he was then acquitted, he would have served a sentence that no longer corresponds to him. That is the justification.

“Legally, it is arguable. But it is within the legal framework of what could happen. It is not something exceptional, although it was a very disparate decision. These resolutions are always taken by magistrates, and one was not in favour.

“It will take a long time until the sentence is final because there will probably be some first appeals and then he could go to the Supreme Court.”

Importantly, Ricondo also reflects on the impact these past few weeks will have had on the victim.

“The trial is a form of closure and now with all these new developments, it’s an open wound that doesn’t allow her to recover emotionally,” she says.

“Then there’s the social message that you give: that this woman, after going through a very tough legal process because of the media coverage, has not been able to breathe for a month. Now that Alves is out, the subject is being talked about again and this will have had a brutal effect on her recovery process.”

This is a powerful point. The focus of justice seems to be on the aggressor and people appear to have forgotten about the victim, who still cannot return to normal life after the rape she suffered a year and four months ago, who has needed to give up work and take medication to cope. A victim who, at all times, decided to waive any prospect of financial compensation to be believed. She only wanted a court to prove her right.

After that happened, how could she have expected this?

“For a victim, it is very difficult to understand that a few weeks after the sentence this person could be on the street,” said Ester Garcia, the victim’s lawyer, after learning that Alves would be eligible for provisional release.

She added on the Catalan radio station RAC1: “I’m surprised and outraged, it seems that justice is being done for the rich. It is a scandal that they let him go free, we will appeal.”

Once again, the judicial process has shown that freedom does have a price — and in this case, the cost is almost meaningless for a player who earned €300,000 a month with his last club, Pumas (who terminated their contract with him last January) and who, at one point, was earning €10million a year with Barcelona.

Alves played 408 matches for Barca across two spells (Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Alves is still honoured by Barca’s website as a “legendary player” despite being a rapist. His freedom has cost him very little. And he is now spending his sentence in his 500 square metre mansion near the city centre. If prison is supposed to help reintegrate criminals into society, it is difficult to see how Alves is going to reflect on the rape he committed from that place, partying until the early hours of the morning.

In Spain, steps are being taken forward — but they are very short. The sentence was modern, yes. There was progress, yes. But it is not enough.

Spain this year has experienced a great revolution in the women’s national team. The year of #SeAcabo, in which World Cup winners had to become social activists, put the country’s toxic football federation (RFEF) on the ropes while the big Spanish sports media branded their important protests “capricious”.



These shocking stories explain why Spain’s women’s team want systemic change

The same RFEF they complained about is now being inspected over allegations of corruption and illegal contracts — all of which are denied — while its former president Luis Rubiales is also due to stand trial over his kiss on Jenni Hermoso. Public prosecutors are requesting he be sentenced to two and a half years in prison over alleged charges of sexual assault and coercion. No date has yet been set for the trial — and these are allegations Rubiales has always denied.

It is worth remembering too, that Rubiales was endorsed by all the presidents of the regional federations and defended by players such as Dani Carvajal after what he did — in front of the whole world.

Spain has since shown that perhaps we are seeing a little more progress in women’s rights, but not so much to stop a convicted rapist from serving his sentence in luxury.

Women’s rights remain on the back burner. The fight for equal conditions, for cases of sexual assault to be taken seriously, takes a physical and mental toll on women, while rich and powerful men continue to take advantage of the privileges made easily available to them.

(Top photo: Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)

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