Fans’ embrace of Ronaldo is part of a worrying trend in football

I support Manchester United as much as anyone, but I’m not celebrating the striker’s return to Old Trafford

This article contains discussion and brief descriptions of sexual violence.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United in recent weeks has been treated as a biblical event among the club’s fans, given his history at the team previously as well as in the sport as a whole. Indeed, he is considered by some to be the best footballer in the world. In his first game back, he scored two goals, helping Man U to a comfortable 4-1 victory over Newcastle. Regardless of his ability to put the ball in the net, however, there are larger issues from his past that simply cannot be ignored.

Since 2017, Ronaldo has denied allegations made by American Kathryn Mayorga that he raped her in Las Vegas more than a decade ago. The day following the alleged assault, which is said to have taken place at the footballer’s hotel room on 12 June 2009, Mayorga made a report to local police, but chose not to give her name or her assailant’s.

After hiring legal representation, Mayorga decided to file a civil suit against Ronaldo. After a period of negotiation, the footballer agreed to pay $375,000 to the complainant as a settlement of the case, in return for Mayorga signing a non-disclosure agreement.

Der Spiegel reported in late 2018 the existence of a document which the German newspaper says was circulated among Ronaldo’s legal team in 2009. It contains answers from the footballer to questions about his encounter with Mayorga, which he later claimed was consensual. He is referred to as “X”, and she as “Ms C”. An early, draft version of the document, according to Der Spiegel, features X admitting that Ms C “said no and stop several times” while he had sex with her.

Las Vegas Police did eventually investigate the allegations in 2018, after details had emerged in the media. In January 2019, investigators requested a DNA sample from the footballer. Six months later, they declined to press criminal charges, saying that they did not think the accusation could “be proven beyond reasonable doubt”.

Ronaldo’s lawyers have since called the Der Spiegel story an “intentional defamation campaign” with sections “altered and/or completely fabricated”. Despite the use of the phrase “defamation”, however, no legal action has been pursued against the German paper over the issue, and it has stood by its reporting.

“These allegations against Ronaldo, as well as earlier ones, have been public knowledge for some time, and yet any protestations about the celebration of his return to Manchester United have fallen on deaf ears.”

These allegations against Ronaldo, as well as earlier ones, have been public knowledge for some time, and yet any protestations about the celebration of his return to Manchester United have fallen on deaf ears. This is a culture of silence we often see when it comes to the alleged wrongdoing of footballers. For the past month, fans have sung his name in the streets and hundreds of articles have been written glorifying his soccer capabilities, but there has been precious little discussion of this dark part of his past.

Man U fans (and football enthusiasts more generally) frequently refuse to even acknowledge the existence of the accusations. When the issue is brought up, it’s generally immediately dismissed as “unproven” before discussion returns to how great a striker he is. This has happened before, especially in sport, and it’s simply not good enough.

I’m not denying Ronaldo is a fantastic player and an asset to the team, but no single individual should be above reproach or accountability. Mayorga has never gotten justice and was silenced by the non-disclosure agreement for years. The fact that charges were never filed is beside the point; it’s widely known how infrequently allegations of sexual violence end up in court. 

And this isn’t a question of whether he deserves to be in jail, only whether football fans should stop and think before singing his praises. That shouldn’t require the same colossal burden of proof as the criminal justice system, and to say it does is a cop-out used to avoid the sticky moral question this issue raises for fans.

Everyone should be answerable for their behaviour, regardless of their sporting expertise. The fact fans mostly refuse to even acknowledge the allegations is a huge problem, even aside from the allegations themselves. There needs to be a culture change among football fans, and it cannot come fast enough.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as News Editor and Assistant News Editor.