In March 2017, Sunderland Football Club announced the resignation of their Chief Executive Margaret Byrnes, following a “serious error of judgment” in the wake of the Adam Johnson sex abuse case. Johnson was a Sunderland footballer, formerly of Middlesbrough and Manchester City, who was convicted in 2016 of grooming and sexually abusing an underage girl.
Johnson publicly denied the allegations awaiting trial, yet privately admitted culpability to his club. Johnson continued representing his club as he awaited trial. Byrnes’ prior knowledge of Johnson’s guilt, however, meant that she was forced to resign following the trial.
It was a serious error of judgement on Byrnes’ and Sunderland’s behalves. Johnson’s crimes were grave and confirmed that football clubs are unconcerned about the misdeeds or morality of their players, provided they can produce on the playing field.
The Cristiano Ronaldo rape allegations have prompted a similar question.
All men - Adam Johnson and Cristiano Ronaldo included - are considered innocent until proven guilty and should be granted the dignity and assumption of innocence. The Johnson case contradicted this, as the player had admitted to his club that he was guilty. The Ronaldo case is complicated too, in that legal documents exist in which the Portuguese star appears to admit culpability.
Documents emerged last month in German publication Der Spiegel purporting to be a settlement between Ronaldo and Kathryn Mayorga, the woman he is accused of raping in Las Vegas in 2009. Ronaldo has denied the accusations since they emerged last month. The documents were surprising in their volume and detail. Mayorga was photographed with Ronaldo on the night in question. She recounted repeatedly protesting his advances.
She also stated that Ronaldo had apologised after the incident.
There is a police report from the day after the alleged attack and there are photographs of the injuries. Mayorga did not give the name of her attacker to the police. There is a statement from Ronaldo which confirms that she had said ‘no’. Last week, Ronaldo’s US-based lawyer alleged that this statement was fake and the result of a data hack. There is a second, different statement from Ronaldo where it is claimed that the encounter was consensual. There was a financial settlement of $375,000 in early 2010.
The fact that there was a financial settlement is not enough to suggest that Ronaldo was guilty of that which he was accused. It is common legal practice, in all walks of life, to settle legal matters with a financial settlement rather than risk a lengthy, public enquiry.
What does complicate matters is that this is not the first incidence in which Ronaldo was accused of such a crime. The Telegraph reported in November 2005 that Cristiano was interviewed by police regarding claims he had raped a woman in a London hotel room. These charges were later dropped but should now provide a further worry for Ronaldo and his club Juventus.
The suggestion that an initial statement in which Ronaldo admitted culpability – the smoking gun to the saga – was faked by hackers is a leap. Last month, Der Spiegel spoke to all parties, including the victims and her lawyers who had been familiar with the case and its contents.
It is a part of the 2018 culture; the Donald Trump ‘fake news, deny what is before your very own eyes’ trope. Ronaldo’s lawyer has attempted to cast doubt in the veracity of the original statement and it is very plausibly enough to save the Portuguese star's reputation for the moment. It could also be a stalling tactic, intended to delay the accusations further while Ronaldo intends to see out the remainder of his football career.
Ronaldo makes his first appearance since 2013 against Manchester United at Old Trafford tonight, representing Italian side Juventus. The Portuguese signed for Juventus this summer for £100m and there is great interest in tonight’s game as Ronaldo played for Manchester United from 2003 until 2009.
The allegations against Ronaldo create great unease among those who admire Ronaldo as a footballer. Jose Mourinho last night called him ‘one of the best [players] of all-time’. Yet, here is he, accused of a terrible crime; one which has prompted serious questions about not only how we view Ronaldo, but his position in society.
As Ronaldo emerges on the Old Trafford pitch tonight, will the fans be cheering his name as he makes a long-awaited return, or will their response be tempered by what might later become of these allegations?
We feel great unease and discomfort at the notion that Adam Johnson was allowed to continue playing in the Premier League, despite some people’s knowledge of his guilt. This writer sat at Old Trafford in 2016 and watched a soon to be sentenced Johnson play for Sunderland against Manchester United. Should Juventus be concerned that evidence exists regarding Ronaldo and it might warrant a sabbatical from the team pending further investigation?
Or is the problem that Juventus have just invested £100m in a footballer who will turn 34 on his next birthday and cannot afford not to have him play in every single game?
These are grave offences for which Ronaldo is accused. He should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but the problem is that legal documents exist which appear in which he appears to acknowledge his guilt. This needs to be properly examined. There needs further discussion beyond a mere cursory question or two in a press conference devoted to Cristiano’s divine return to Old Trafford.
Ultimately, the decision will rest with his football club Juventus, an organisation which has gambled a tremendous amount of money on his ongoing availability and viability as a footballer. Juventus might not be in the best position to make an unbiased judgement on what is morally correct.
There will be little time for sentiment. The sabbatical scenario is highly unlikely, but should anything come of the allegations currently facing Ronaldo, serious repercussions are likely for those who chose to ignore the evidence present before our eyes.