Cristiano Ronaldo rape allegation: Nike, EA Sports express concern over claim against ‘Fifa 19’ cover star
US sportswear giant among sponsors to break silence over 2009 assault claim by Nevada woman which threatens to damage Juventus star’s reputation
Cristiano Ronaldo faced growing heat on Thursday from sponsors over a rape allegation in the US after Nike and video game maker EA Sports expressed concern about the conduct of the football superstar, who has denied the accusations.
The five-time world player of the year, who was seen driving into Juventus’ training complex in the morning, received public backing from the Italian club, who said they would not judge him on the 2009 assault claim by a Nevada woman.
The show of support came soon after Nike broke its silence in a statement that described the company’s unease over its association with Ronaldo, which started in 2003.
The latest terms signed in 2016 are worth a reported US$1 billion, and Ronaldo has suggested that it was a deal “for life”.
But the Beaverton, Oregon-based company is troubled by details emerging from a lawsuit filed last week in a Nevada state court by the accuser, who claims she was raped by Ronaldo in Las Vegas. Police have also reopened an investigation.
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Nike said in an email.
One of the wealthiest and most gifted players of all time, Ronaldo wears Nike boots and appears in its advertising. The Portugal captain is also the face of the EA Sports “Fifa” video game franchise, appearing on the cover of the 2019 game that was released worldwide last week.
“We have seen the concerning report that details allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo,” EA Sports said. “We are closely monitoring the situation, as we expect cover athletes and ambassadors to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with EA’s values.”
Whereas other players might be winding down their careers at 33, Ronaldo is still in demand by leading clubs around the world. The former Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United forward made the third big transfer of this career in July, leaving Real Madrid after nine years for Juventus, a move that cost the Italian club €112 million (then US$132 million).
Ronaldo “has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus,” the Italian league champions said. “The events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion.”
Neither Ronaldo nor Juventus have addressed the allegation by Kathryn Mayorga that she received a payoff of US$375,000 in 2010 after being put under pressure by the footballer’s “fixers” to keep quiet about an incident in a penthouse hotel suite.
The investment in players is so vast in football that clubs are reticent to enforce morality clauses by firing them. Sponsors have already stuck with Ronaldo even though he pleaded guilty in July to tax fraud in Spain and agreed to pay a fine of around US$20 million.
But now a well-honed reputation is facing its first serious difficulties.
Ronaldo clearly has a lot to lose. With his chiselled face and body, slicked-back hair and Hollywood film-idol looks to match his on-field talents, he has amassed 340 million social media followers to monetise that image.
He’s also been an ambassador for Save the Children for five years and gained international coverage in 2016 by announcing a “generous donation” to provide life-saving relief to Syrians. The charity said it was “disheartened” by the lawsuit and said it was “working to get more information” about the rape allegation.
In June, Forbes, which has a long record of quantifying the earnings of the world’s richest people, estimated that Ronaldo made an annual US$108 million, with salary and winnings netting the player US$61 million and endorsements a further US$47 million. His haul puts him third among athletes behind now-retired boxer Floyd Mayweather and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi.
“As arguably the best footballer in the world,” said Mark Thompson, managing director of leading sponsorship management company, SponServe, “Ronaldo is recognised the world over, offering sponsors a unique opportunity to gain maximum impact from any brand engagement.”