Cristiano Ronaldo should use mega-deal to speak out about human rights

Cristiano Ronaldo should use his £175million-a-year Saudi football mega-deal to speak out about the kingdom’s human rights abuses, says Amnesty International

  • Campaigners called on Cristiano Ronaldo to challenge human rights abuses
  • They said Ronaldo should use his profile to challenge Saudi Arabia’s record
  • Ronaldo has signed for Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr on a £173m-a-year deal

Campaigners are calling on Cristiano Ronaldo to use his high-profile signing with a Saudi Arabian football club to speak out about the country’s human rights abuses.

Amnesty International said the former Manchester United star’s £173m-a-year signing with the Riyadh-based club, Al-Nassr, ‘fits into a wider pattern of sportswashing in Saudi Arabia.’

The desert kingdom has been accused of using the glamour of sport, and most particularly football with its purchase of Newcastle FC, to distract from executions and clampdowns on freedom of speech at home.

In a statement the day after Ronaldo star was paraded in front of 25,000 cheering fans at his new club’s stadium, campaigners called on him to do more than just offer uncritical praise of Saudi Arabia.

Cristiano Ronaldo signed a £173m-a-year deal with Riyadh-based club, Al-Nassr. Pictured at Mrsool Park, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 3, 2022

Amnesty International said Ronaldo’s signing with the club ‘fits into a wider pattern of sportswashing in Saudi Arabia.’ Pictured: Al Nassr unveil Cristiano Ronaldo, Mrsool Park, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 3, 2023

Dana Ahmed, Amnesty International’s Middle East researcher, said: ‘It is highly likely that the Saudi authorities will promote Ronaldo’s presence in the country as a means of distracting from the country’s appalling human rights record. Instead of offering uncritical praise of Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo should use his considerable public platform to draw attention to human rights issues in the country.

‘Saudi Arabia regularly executes people for crimes including murder, rape and drug smuggling. On a single day last year, 81 people were put to death, many of whom were tried in grossly unfair trials. The authorities are also continuing their crackdown on freedom of expression and association, with heavy prison sentences handed down to human rights defenders, women’s rights activists and other political activists.

‘Cristiano Ronaldo shouldn’t allow his fame and celebrity status to become a tool of Saudi sportswashing – he should use his time at Al-Nassr to speak out about the myriad human rights issues in the country.’

There is already speculation that the world’s most famous No.7 will be used by Saudi Arabia to front its future sports projects, including a bid to host the 2030 World Cup jointly with Egypt and Greece.

In his statement he vowed: ‘ I gave my word to this club not only to develop the club but the country’.

FIFA has also had long-term aims of building sport in the oil-rich Middle East by allowing the Saudis to host a new, expanded 32-team Club World Cup in 2025.

Cristiano Ronaldo waving upon his arrival to a private airport in Riyadh ahead of being presented as an Al Nassr player. Pictured: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 2, 2023

There’s also the development of a futuristic £500bn luxury resort on the Red Sea, called Neom, which will be hosting mega sporting occasions which he could front.

For Saudi Arabia, an opportunity to host the 2030 World Cup would provide the perfect rehabilitation for crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA said ‘most likely’ organised the murder of the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

MBS’ reputation as a reformer has also been hit by his country’s role in bombing Yemen, the jailing of women’s rights activists, and the widespread execution of political dissidents from the minority Shia community.

As well as football, the Saudis have also been accused of sportswashing through the massive spending sprees on boxing, golf and Formula 1.

Through his 528m Instagram followers and 106.7m twitter followers Ronaldo has a huge global following with which to promote Saudi Arabia.

Al-Nassr, who are second in the Saudi Professional League, has already seen its Instagram account increase by millions since he joined.

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