Let’s be in­tel­li­gent hooli­gans

The rape ac­cu­sa­tion lev­elled at Cris­tiano Ron­aldo has his fer­vent sup­port­ers jump­ing to his de­fence, but fans need to take a seat

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Luke Feltham

Look­ing back at al­most two decades of foot­ball ad­mi­ra­tion, my most crush­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was not a lost fi­nal or a last-minute goal, but rather a ret­ro­spec­tive slow­mo­tion re­play. In it, Chelsea cap­tain John Terry, tar­get­ing Queens Park Rangers’ An­ton Fer­di­nand, could clearly be seen mouthing the words “fuck­ing black cunt”.

It was par­tic­u­larly painful be­cause, prior to be­ing pre­sented with that in­dis­putable ev­i­dence, I had fiercely de­nied to any­one who would lis­ten the plau­si­bil­ity of the ac­cu­sa­tions that emerged in the af­ter­math of that 2011 match. Rio Fer­di­nand had long been a re­sent­ful leader of a ri­val team and now his brother was get­ting in on the act.

More im­por­tantly, this was Terry, “Cap­tain, Leader, Leg­end”, as the ban­ner says. He had come to rep­re­sent ev­ery­thing the club hoped to stand by. The only thing he had done wrong in his life was slip in the 2008 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal. Even sleep­ing with his best friend’s for­mer wife and cheat­ing on his own wife were never vil­i­fied through Blue eyes.

There have been count­less such mass oc­cur­rences of in­dif­fer­ence and in­sen­si­tiv­ity in foot­ball. And now there’s one brew­ing that threat­ens to be nas­tier than any we’ve seen be­fore.

Al­le­ga­tions of rape have emerged against global phe­nom­e­non Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. Kathryn May­orga says the Por­tuguese forced him­self on her in a Las Ve­gas ho­tel in 2009. She then re­port­edly agreed to a set­tle­ment that has kept her quiet un­til now.

Po­lice con­firmed on Tues­day that they’ve re­opened the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Ron­aldo’s lawyer have dis­missed the re­ports as “one of the most se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of per­sonal rights in re­cent years”.

We can only wait and see how this pro­gresses through the of­fi­cial chan­nels. The pub­lic trial, of course, is well un­der way. Par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing has been the vol­ume and tone of the sup­port for the ac­cused. Hash­tags such as #IS­tandWithCris­tiano and slut-sham­ing pro­jec­tiles have been thrown around with reck­less aban­don. Thou­sands of oth­ers have re­fused to ac­knowl­edge that the al­le­ga­tions have enough space to ac­com­mo­date a frag­ment of truth.

Although Terry had a few stub­born Chelsea fans to prop­a­gate his dis­be­lief, Ron­aldo has achieved su­per­star sta­tus on an un­prece­dented level. There are zealots around the globe who would arm them­selves in his de­fence, so­licited or not. Speak­ing out against this man is le­git­i­mately dan­ger­ous.

To these peo­ple the mes­sage is sim­ple: don’t be a wanker.

Yes, he’s in­no­cent un­til proven guilty. No, you don’t have to sharpen your pitch­fork and hunt him down your­self. But, what­ever you do, don’t add to the noise and voice your sup­port for some­one who’s been ac­cused of a heinous crime.

Foot­ball nat­u­rally pitches you as in op­po­si­tion to ev­ery­body else. To this day, Stoke City fans boo Aaron Ram­sey be­cause he de­cided to get his leg bro­ken on their pitch. Liver­pool play­ers wore T-shirts in sup­port of Luis Suárez af­ter the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion dared to sanc­tion him for racism — not long be­fore the Terry in­ci­dent, in fact. It’s in our na­ture to clam up when our teams and idols are chal­lenged — af­ter all, a size­able chunk of us are foot­ball hooli­gans. Maybe not in the Mill­wall sense, but cer­tainly in the Maradona mould. Let’s not pre­tend we don’t jerk our bod­ies and throw our hands about in manic fash­ion in front of the TV on week­ends. This is who we are. But let’s be bet­ter hooli­gans.

Der Spiegel, the Ger­man pub­li­ca­tion that re­vealed the Ron­aldo al­le­ga­tions, is a re­spected out­let that has ev­i­dently put in suf­fi­cient work to give this story cred­i­bil­ity. They knew full well, if they hadn’t, a pack of hun­gry lawyers would be savour­ing the meal to come. (In­deed, CR7’s team have said they will be su­ing “fake news” Der Spiegel.)

The point is that this is not com­ing from Amer­i­can ra­dio show host and con­spir­acy the­o­rist Alex Jones. It’s not some YouTu­ber or Buz­zfeed jour­nal­ist try­ing to get clicks. It doesn’t mean Ron­aldo is guilty; it means you are in no po­si­tion to dis­miss years of re­search the way United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump crushes truth un­der his heel.

With the ev­i­dence pre­sented be­fore us, Ron­aldo at the very least ap­pears to be a phi­lan­derer who dis­missed a woman’s con­cerns by pay­ing her off. The im­por­tance of this at­ti­tude goes far be­yond the con­fines of the foot­ball pitch. Should he be found guilty of much more, your shouts of sup­port make you an ac­ces­sory to the crime. This pow­er­ful icon and his lawyers do not need you fight­ing for him. It’s hard, but even the most fer­vent hooli­gans among us have to ac­cept at some point in our lives that what hap­pens in our favourite sta­di­ums can’t com­pare with the crimes of racism and sex­ual abuse. And be­ing the best in the world does not ab­solve you of those crimes, or our scru­tiny.

So let’s not send our abuse in the di­rec­tion of al­leged vic­tims — save it for the ref­er­ees.

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