Amnesty urges Ronaldo to push back against Saudi 'sportswashing' after Al-Nassr move

Amnesty urges Ronaldo to push back against Saudi 'sportswashing' after Al-Nassr move
Amnesty International has called on Portuguese football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to use his time at Saudi football club Al-Nassr to raise awareness about the kingdom's human rights abuses.
2 min read
04 January, 2023
Ronaldo said many clubs tried to sign him, but he chose to go to Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr [source: Getty}

Amnesty International has called on football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to reject Saudi efforts to use his "fame and status" as a "tool of sportwashing" following his signing with Al-Nassr. 

The Portuguese captain officially joined Saudi football club Al-Nassr last week to earn a whopping £175 million per year until 2025. 

The 37-year-old was greeted by roaring crowds when he first entered Al-Nassr’s Mrsool Park stadium on Tuesday and during his first press conference for the club said: "I won everything, I played for the most important clubs in Europe and now it is a new challenge in Asia." 

Amnesty International, however, warned on Wednesday that the Portuguese signing was a textbook case of "sportwashing" by the Gulf kingdom. 

"It is highly likely that Saudi authorities will promote Ronaldo’s presence in the country as a means of distracting from the country’s appalling human rights record," said Dana Ahmed, a Middle East researcher for the human rights organisation. 

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Saudi Arabia has in recent years embarked on a mass sporting spending spree, buying English football club Newcastle United and hosting international events such as the Grand Prix and golfing competitions. 

The kingdom’s high-profile sporting purchases are widely viewed as an effort to steer international attention away from prolific human rights abuses towards a cultivated image of Saudi Arabia as a modern, globalised nation. 

These prolific human rights abuses include a track record of systematically detaining activists, dissidents, and reformist clerics, conducting grossly unfair trials, and mass executions. Last year, for example, 81 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in a single day. 

Amnesty's Dana Ahmed said Ronaldo "should use his time at Al-Nassr to speak out about the myriad of human rights abuses in the country". 

So far, however,  the superstar has posed celebratory messages from the club’s Instagram account and mistakenly called his new benefactors "South Africa" rather than Saudi Arabia. 

The 37-year-old left his former team Manchester United after a controversial interview in which he criticised the club and its manager. 

In the interview six weeks ago, British talk show host Piers Morgan told Ronaldo: "If it was just about money, you’d be in Saudi earning this king’s ransom, but that’s not what motivates you. You want to keep at the top." 

Ronaldo began his reply by saying: "exactly".