Former Brasilian footballer Dani Alves. | Alejandro García


Brazilian footballer Dani Alves was convicted of raping a woman in a Barcelona nightclub in 2022 and sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison on Thursday, which his lawyer said he will appeal. The top court in Spain's Catalonia region also ordered Alves, who repeatedly changed his story, first denying knowing the woman and eventually claiming the sex was consensual, to pay 150,000 euros ($163,000) to the victim.

"It has been proven that the victim did not consent, and that there is evidence, in addition to the testimony of the plaintiff, to consider the rape proven," the court - the Audiencia Provincial de Barcelona - said in a statement. The court said that as well as the victim's testimony, it considered as evidence of rape that she suffered a knee injury after Alves pushed her to the floor, her behaviour following the event and the fact that she suffered after-effects. The prosecutor had sought a nine-year prison term for Alves and the victim requested 12 years, but the court landed on four and a half, saying it considered a mitigating factor that he had opted to pay the victim the compensation regardless of the outcome of the trial.

Alves also tried to use as mitigation the fact that he was drunk, but the court rejected it. His lawyer Ines Guardiola told reporters outside the court that her legal team was going to appeal and that they will defend Alves' innocence until the end. "I can only say that I still believe Alves is innocent," she said adding her client was "coping well." The 40-year-old former Barcelona defender was arrested in January last year and has been held on remand since then.

Dominant topic

The case has attracted significant attention not only due to Alves' profile but because gender violence has become an increasingly dominant topic in Spain's public discourse. It has been one of the most high-profile trials in Spain since a law was passed in 2022 that made consent a key element in sexual assault cases and widened the range of prison time. Alves benefited from this law, introduced by Spain's socialist-led government and known as "Only Yes is Yes," as it carried a lower minimum sentence as a result of merging the formerly distinct felonies of sexual abuse and aggression.

The law had to be amended in 2023 to remove a loophole which was used by hundreds of convicted rapists to reduce their prison terms or win early release. The victim's lawyer David Saenz told reporters they were satisfied with the verdict, adding that his team would nonetheless analyse whether Alves' sentence corresponds to the gravity of the crime.

"The sentence recognises what we've been saying all along: that the victim was telling the truth and that she suffered," he said. Alves, one of the most successful footballers in history having won more than 40 trophies for his country and clubs like Juventus, Paris St Germain and Barcelona, joined Mexican side Pumas UNAM in 2022 for a reported 300,000 euros monthly salary. The club terminated Alves' contract after his arrest and suggested they could take legal action against the player, requesting $5 million in compensation for the breaking of an ethics and behaviour clause.