TIMES SPORT: What do female fans make of Ronaldo rape allegation? ‘Bullshit’

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22 October 2018

Lucy Holden travels to the player’s home town and latest club and hears a common theme

In the corner of a rundown bar in the Madeiran capital of Funchal, a man sits smoking and playing cards. It’s a hot and humid day and as he listens to the man speaking to him, Hugo Aveiro twists his phone in its official Cristiano Ronaldo case around in his hands in a way that makes his younger brother cartwheel on the back of it.

He is thicker-set than Ronaldo, who is ten years his junior, and much shier but has the same dark eyes, when they finally meet mine. We’re talking through a translator because he does not speak much English and he is a little reluctant given that this is the first time he has spoken out since Cristiano was accused of rape.

“My brother is a hero in Madeira,” Aveiro, 43, says, speaking just a few streets away from where he grew up with the now Juventus star, their two sisters and parents in a tiny home. “He has a big impact here because he’s done a lot for the island.

“Around half a million people come to the [CR7] museum each year. My brother comes back usually for New Year’s Eve because it’s our mother’s birthday, there are lots of fireworks, although this year he might be here or Dubai.

“People here are defensive of him because everyone knows him. The local news is only saying good things and the people will stand behind him. He is an icon in Madeira.”

So they think the claims are rubbish? He makes a “pfft” sound and looks at the floor, shaking his head. “Yes. A lot of,” he says in English.

For those who need reminding, the claims are as follows: Ronaldo has been accused of raping Kathryn Mayorga, an American model, in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2009. The allegation emerged last month in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, just weeks after his transfer to Juventus from Real Madrid. The fact that he paid Mayorga, who was then 25, £288,000 to sign a non-disclosure agreement is “by no means a confession of guilt”, his lawyers explained. Ronaldo has strongly denied the allegation, calling it “fake news”, and has maintained that the aftermath of a night drinking in an expensive club was consensual.

A look through the replies on Ronaldo’s social media to his denials makes happy reading for the five-times Ballon d’Or and five-times Champions League winner. His fans are backing him. But how does the allegation sit with the women who adore him and follow him? They are struggling with the idea that it could be true.

Some will go so far as to say that he “might” have done it but most cannot countenance the idea and a cloud of defensive confusion persists. On Madeira — which treats Ronaldo a little like Rome treats the Pope — it was especially difficult for them to imagine that they might have got him all wrong.

You cannot walk the length of a football pitch in Funchal without seeing his face carved (badly) in bronze or grinning at you from the back of a bus. It is a near-religious experience.

As well as the CR7 museum, which Aveiro manages, there is a CR7 hotel on the marina, with grass-green corridors designed to look like strips of pitch (you have to “shake hands with Ronaldo” to get into the bedrooms, because even the door handles are modelled on his wrists and fingers). Downstairs in the museum you can buy everything from Ronaldo cookie cutters to badminton rackets, children’s armbands and bottles of Madeira wine modelling his face for a label.

“Is this his favourite wine?” I ask the woman on reception. “Of course,” she says. “He’s Madeiran.”

The number of selfie-takers still swarming around his sculptures suggest that nothing has changed on an island where his family reigns. Everyone seems to know his mother Dolores, who lives in a grey house on the hillside in the São Gonçalo district that is “nothing special for the mother of a millionaire”, someone comments. His sister Elma mans the CR7 clothing shop in São Martinho, where she lies in the window in a sultry perfume advert for the new CR7 fragrance above some very questionable fashion.

For a town that believes it knows everything about Ronaldo they are disorientated over the allegations that he attacked Mayorga.

“Footballers aren’t supposed to go to discos, drink, smoke, but all the players want girls …” Duarte Nunes, who works as a waiter at a café on the marina, says. “It was a party. He was young … It’s strange. Maybe if he did do it; I don’t know … it would be very bad if he did because he’s an important person to the people, but people tell a lot of stories about him. I only care what he’s like on the pitch.

“When I first saw Ronaldo play for Manchester United on television I didn’t know he was from Madeira, then he starts scoring too many goals and the commentary became about him. I loved him more when I knew he was from here. Argentina have Messi and we have Ronaldo.”

“A lot of people are crazy about him,” Ana Silva who also works at the café, says. “He’s No 1 and he gets a lot of girls, so he doesn’t need to do anything like that. She must have given some permission to be with him.”

Everyone puffs out their cheeks when asked why he would have paid almost £300,000 to silence Mayorga if it was consensual and most end up echoing the headlines. “It was the beginning of his career, I think he doesn’t want anything said against him then,” Silva says.

Other Portuguese women are more bluntly defensive. “Bullshit,” call the girls in a group on holiday from Lisbon. “We don’t have a formed opinion, but bullshit,” they say, walking away. The men admit that it’s “complicated — but basically we don’t believe the allegations, no,” Fabio Domingos says. “He’s a god in Lisbon too, and the best player in the world,” he adds, and if success proved innocence, Ronaldo’s would.

He is a rags-to-riches idol, given that he grew up in poverty in Santo António, a parish on the middle of a mountain, in a house “without a bathroom”, I’m told. Only a small car park edged with banana trees exists there now because he had the house demolished when he became famous. It didn’t reflect the right image, some say. Others believe that it brought too much attention to the tiny, poverty-stricken neighbourhood.

Nearby is the football pitch where he played as a child for Andorinha, the players protected from landslides only by thin netting draped over the steep cliffside above, but today the only movement on the pitch is the stirrings of a sleeping stray dog. Pinned to the wall of the bar next to it is another shrine made of old team photos including one of a clumsy-looking old van that they travelled to games in. “No Ferrari,” reads the caption, and underneath it someone has written: “O nosso idolo” — “our idol”.

The strength with which they have worshipped him since he became one of the world’s best players fuels the defence. “Nine years later?” Miguel Vieira, who has lived on the island all his life, says. “For me that doesn’t make sense.” But that still doesn’t answer the question: do you think he did it? Unless the evasion does just that.

Realising that insulting Ronaldo on Madeira is like blaspheming in the Vatican, British tourists are “being careful not to mention it”.

“They are completely obsessed with him here,” Sarah Beachill, from Barnsley, says. “We went on a 4×4 tour into the mountains and even that was about where he had lived; where he first kicked a ball.”

In Turin on Saturday, the man himself ran out to warm up to Guns N’ Roses blaring across the Allianz Stadium, his Tango-orange boots making him stand out even more. All eyes were fixed on him. Eighteen minutes into the match, Juventus’s new No 7 — the man who Pavel Nedved, the vice-chairman, that morning described as “certainly one of the biggest signings” in the club’s history — paid back another slice of his £88 million transfer by opening the scoring against Genoa.

By that point, he had already narrowly missed four other attempts on goal and he had no more as his side were held to a 1-1 draw. Still there is no need for panic on the pitch with Juve four points clear at the top of the Serie A table and with two wins out of two in their Champions League group. Next stop, Old Trafford and the hotly anticipated reunion for Ronaldo with Manchester United tomorrow.

Turin is in a similarly tricky position to Madeira given that it could not have rolled out a longer, redder carpet to welcome the 33-yearold. The glossy Torino Magazine described the reaction of this northern Italian city to the arrival of one of the world’s most famous footballers as “delirium”. In a 26-page, apparent love letter to CR7 they likened him to an “epiphany” who would “light up” Juventus and Turin. He’s “a monument that plays, smiles, lives on the hill, goes to dinner in Canavese and brings an extra reason to visit places,” it said. The sports pages of the local newspapers were almost as rhapsodic.

So imagine the city’s horror, just weeks after his debut for Juventus in August and a 3-2 win against Chievo, that their new star was being accused of rape. “Utopia became reality,” when he joined Juventus, ended the magazine piece, but the reality was fast becoming a nightmare.

“The feeling was, ‘What do we do?’ ” Clara Albuquerque, a journalist covering Italian football for a Brazilian TV channel, says. “The press had described him as the best player in the world, and as everything to the club, and then the allegations came out. It took the newspapers five days to cover the story because they were working out how they could backtrack but, of course, they couldn’t. They basically launched a campaign saying, ‘Keep your hands off Ronaldo’ — it was anything but impartial.”

Local women watching the match find the situation equally as confusing. “Is he still a pinup? I don’t know,” Ava Marcina says. “Can he be? Everyone here is wearing Ronaldo shirts still because what do we do, pretend he doesn’t exist suddenly? No one knows what to say about it because we don’t know what we’d do if it’s true. We just got him. No one wants to believe it.”

“It can’t be true,” Lucia Cavilerio, who grew up just outside Turin says, but she doesn’t look sure. “Juventus have always been amazing but Ronaldo is the best player in the world right now and the team’s getting better with him. It’s like he’s improving everyone by playing with them,” she says.

Tackling the question of the allegations like this, with statements about his talent, looks and charity work in Madeira are an attempt to reason that they cannot be true but have nothing to do with that night in Las Vegas. Until the issue is resolved, his fans are trying not to let him topple from the pedestal that they have had him on for more than a decade. The way that he is idolised makes the claims unfathomable and too uncomfortable to accept, so the crowd at Saturday’s match roared ferociously every time their new signing came anywhere near them.

Tomorrow we will see whether the Old Trafford crowd will be as understanding.

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