ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Erdogan makes unfounded claim Ronaldo ‘banned’ at World Cup for backing Palestinians

Turkish president’s odd assertion does not appear to have any basis in fact; Qatar tournament saw widespread backing for Palestinians

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures after entering the pitch during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, December 10, 2022. (AP/Martin Meissner)
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures after entering the pitch during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, December 10, 2022. (AP/Martin Meissner)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed that Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo was subject to a “political ban” at the World Cup in Qatar because of his purported support for Palestinians.

“They have wasted Ronaldo. Unfortunately, they have imposed a political ban on him,” Erdogan said on Sunday while speaking to a group of students, according to comments translated by Al Jazeera.

“Sending a soccer player like Ronaldo to the pitch with just 30 minutes remaining to the match ruined his psychology and took away his energy,” Erdogan added, saying by way of explanation that “Ronaldo is someone who stands for the Palestinian cause.”

Ronaldo does not appear to have made any significant public statements weighing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although some doctored images, videos and reports claiming that he has have circulated widely in the past. The soccer player has over the years met with and been photographed with both Israelis and Palestinians.

Ronaldo is widely considered to have had a terrible World Cup performance. He tried — and failed — to claim a headed goal against Uruguay, showed a bad attitude after being substituted against South Korea, to the annoyance of his coach, then was benched against Switzerland and Morocco in the knockout stage. He wept after Portugal’s 1-0 loss to Morocco that ended his World Cup career, and finished the tournament with only one goal.

However, there is no apparent basis to Erdogan’s claims that Ronaldo’s performance was linked to politics in any way, nor to any purported stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Support for the Palestinian cause and the waving of Palestinian flags were a common occurrence at the World Cup in Qatar — so much so that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas thanked Doha for using the tournament to spread support for Palestinians.

Morocco’s players celebrate with a Palestinian flag at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on December 6, 2022. (Glyn Kirk/AFP)

There is also no reason to think that the Portuguese national team would make any decisions about players — certainly its star player — based on politics instead of sporting considerations.

Ronaldo, one of the most famous soccer players in the world, visited Israel in 2013 for a World Cup qualifying match. In 2019, he met with then-foreign minister Israel Katz in Italy, gifting him a shirt.

In 2016, Ronaldo and his fellow members of Real Madrid met with Ahmed Dawabsha, a Palestinian boy who survived a firebombing carried out by Jewish extremists which killed his parents and baby brother.

The same year, Ronaldo starred in a series of commercials for the Israeli HOT TV network, which sparked a backlash from some of his fans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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