Amnesty International expressed on Wednesday January 4 the wish that the Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo, engaged with the Saudi club Al-Nassr, use his superstar status to speak out on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. (Pictured: Al-Nassr’s new Portuguese striker, Cristiano Ronaldo poses for a selfie with presenters during his unveiling at Mrsool Park stadium in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on January 3, 2023.)
SPORT – Duty of words. The NGO Amnesty International expressed this Wednesday, January 4, the wish that the Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldowho at the age of 37 has just signed with the Saudi club Al-Nassr, uses his status as a global football superstar to speak out on issues relating to human rights in Saudi Arabia.
‘Instead of uncritically praising Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo should use his status to draw attention to human rights issues there’said Dana Ahmed, researcher for Amnesty International in the Middle East, in a press release published on the organization’s website.
Ronaldo, during his official presentation by the Riyadh club on Tuesday, said he wanted “ contribute to the success of the country and its culture”. For Amnesty, the Portuguese legend goes like this, in addition to become Al-Nassr’s star player with a staggering salary of 200 million euros until 2025, to be the unofficial ambassador of Saudi Arabia and its sports diplomacy.
A tool of influence to promote the image of Saudi Arabia
“People are routinely executed in Saudi Arabia, for crimes such as murder, rape and drug trafficking. In a single day last year, 81 people were executed, many of them after show trials”underlined Dana Ahmed. “The (Saudi) authorities are also continuing to crack down on freedom of expression and association, with heavy prison sentences handed down to human rights defenders, women’s rights activists and other political activists”continues the researcher.
According to her, “Cristiano Ronaldo should not just be a tool to promote the image of Saudi Arabia through sport”. “He should use his stay in Al-Nassr to discuss the multitude of problems related to the respect of human rights in the country”she advised him again.
The signing of the Portuguese international striker to Al-Nassr, assures Amnesty, returns “ in a vast system of sportwashing” led by the wealthy and powerful Gulf kingdom to improve its image and reputation through sporting events.
Goal 2030 World Cup
A position shared by Raphaël Le Magoariec, specialist in the geopolitics of sport in the Gulf countries at the University of Tours. “Bringing Ronaldo helps consolidate Saudi Arabia’s sporting strategy, it also means moving on to the next stage, which is that of the candidacy for the organization of the 2030 World Cup”he analyzes for AFP.
“This is the beginning of the operation to seduce the world football authorities, as the presence of Prince Mohammed bin Salman had already shown at the opening match of the World Cup” in Qatar, he recalls. “They come to seek with Ronaldo a sacred anointing, there is sanctity”even believes Raphaël Le Magoariec.
At the beginning of 2021, when Saudi Arabia was considering adding the services of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to promote tourism in the kingdom – an attempt that had finally revealed paying off for the Argentinian but rejected at the time by CR7 –, the NGO Human Rights Watch had, like Amnesty International, denounced the strategy of the kingdom. “Saudi Arabia’s use of sporting events and athletes to distract from its human rights record compels us to look beyond the glamour. When […] sportwashing is the primary purpose of an event, celebrities should consider not attending,” had written HRW.
With the sole aim of hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2030, Saudi Arabia has also recently invested colossal sums to host tennis and golf events or a Formula 1 Grand Prix, funded the launch of the LIV circuit, the new professional men’s golf circuit, and in 2021 bought the English club of Newcastle. Saudi Arabia was also designated in October 2022 to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games.
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