The Dangers of Idol Worship in Football : The Curious Case of Cristiano Ronaldo

~ Saguna Siddheshwari

So. Let's talk about the “Ronaldo case” that has recently resurfaced in light of yet another disturbing case involving Manchester City player Benjamin Mendy.

Ronaldo's case is an old one dating back to 2009 and one which entails serious allegations made against the football megastar. An American former model Kathryn Mayorga who at the time, in 2009, was 25 years old, filed a case against Cristiano Ronaldo, accusing him of rape. Let us examine the facts that are known.

On June 12, 2009 Ronaldo met Mayorga while partying in a club in Las Vegas. Mayorga worked there as a side job while her modelling career took off. Later, she says that she and a friend of hers accompanied Ronaldo to his suite where she claims he then raped her.

The very next day, she reported the incident to the police and in call records accessed by the German paper Der Spiegel who covered the case extensively, she was clearly heard saying that she had been raped by “an athlete” whom she refused to name at the time.

As protocol demanded, she was given a medical “rape- kit” test, a special test which can confirm any signs of sexual assault. Her tests confirmed her claims.

The case was then taken forward years later in 2018 when Der Spiegel reported that they had access to documents (that have since proved to be legitimate) that showed Ronaldo's statement taken during the investigation of the case. In his original statement, he admits that he did have intercourse with Mayorga and that she did in fact keep saying ‘No’. ‘Don't do it’. ‘I'm not like the others’. The Portuguese star claims that he “apologized afterwards”. Regardless of the “apology”,  Ronaldo's statement sounds a lot like non-consensual sex i.e. rape which is probably why he retracted his statement in December and change his stance to claim that she never said no. It is also reported that by US law Ronaldo is still obliged to provide his DNA to aid in the investigations which is why he just never goes there.

However, the case went completely quiet very quickly. This is due to the fact that Mayorga had dropped charges against Ronaldo in return for a large sum of money and a "Non disclosure agreement" or NDA that bound Mayorga to never talk of the incident again; and Mayorga kept her word for a long time. But in 2018, perhaps spurred by the #MeToo movement which helped expose many celebrities and sex scandals, her lawyers sought to reopen the case. She also finally opened up about her identity which she had kept anonymous before now.

Her lawyers claimed that at the time of the signing, she had not been in a psychological position to either deny or accept the terms of NDA and because of this, she wanted to re-open investigations. It is believed that if Mayorga follows through with this civil lawsuit, Ronaldo will be obliged to travel to America and take part in the legal proceedings.

This case in itself is disturbing, but what makes it perhaps even more outrageous and horrific is the way it has been received and covered by football media and fans.

The fact that one of the best players on history has been accused of rape is a huge issue and something you would think would be widely covered in football media, but you would be wrong. Since the day that this news came out, hardly anyone has acknowledged the fact that Ronaldo might be a rapist. While I'm not in any way accusing him of it, one has to admit that it is a possibility. As is unfortunately the norm in football, all footballing institutions and media protected the superstar by not talking about the incident at all. What's even more disheartening to see, is the reaction of football fans and especially Ronaldo fans whose first instinct seems to be to abuse Mayorga online accusing her of a multitude of things from being a “gold digger” to “having no character”.

All her actions have been questioned and criticized by anyone and everyone who has access to social media. The fact that people find it so easy to abuse someone who is possibly a rape survivor is disturbing. People accused her of  “seeking fame”,  completely ignoring the fact that for a long time she was anonymous; they accused her of trying to defame Ronaldo because he ‘rejected her and was jealous of his fame’ and many others question why she was silent for so long before 2018 implying that she re-opened the case because she ran out of the money Ronaldo paid her. Those that do vaguely accept the allegations claim that it's ok because he apologized later on, not realising that if the allegations are true, an apology does nothing to comfort the victim whose life has forever been ruined. Many blame her for signing the NDA in the first place blatantly ignoring the fact that a rape completely ruins and depletes a person’s mental health.

This reaction goes to show how brutal and misogynistic football fans can be. They seem to have taken victim blaming to a whole new level and show a total lack of empathy and bias; perhaps these same people would be extremely vocal about the case had their idol Ronaldo not been involved.

As I said, I am not accusing Ronaldo of rape and I'm not suggesting that people do it openly either; but I think what's necessary is a need to have a discourse about the topic. There is a need to talk about it and to entertain all possible scenarios. However, the fans and media's reluctance to talk about the case at all highlights the serious problem of idol worship in football. Many football superstars like Messi and Ronaldo are placed on such a high pedestal, and take on such godlike characteristics that every action of theirs seems justified to their fans. It seems almost impossible they they could commit crimes like any other person because “they don't need to”.The reasoning that “Ronaldo doesn't need to rape someone because he could have any woman he wanted” flaunts the very reason rape happens - not for sexual fulfillment, but for a sense of power and total control over the body and mind of another.

Fans are so fanatical that they can't seem to make a distinction between a footballer's ability on the field and his off field personal life and that is a dangerous mindset to have because it gives rise to one dimensional personality for a footballer which is not true.

As long as fans continue to deny that every footballer as a person, Ronaldo included, is more than what he does on the pitch, the problem of idol worship and justification for crimes committed, football can never be truly beautiful in every aspect.

Cristiano Ronaldo is not the first footballer who has been accused of rape or violence against women and he will not be the last. Such claims keep coming up and are never pursued either in media or law because of the influence that such people have over entire institutions. They are dismissed as rumours and never paid much attention either because they draw attention to an uncomfortable and dark side of fame, fortune and athletes and celebrities that millions of people idolize and even worship.

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