Storm clouds deepen as Ronaldo sponsors ‘monitor’ situation and Portugal rest him

By Samindra Kunti

October 5 – US sportswear behemoth Nike and gaming giant EA Sports have expressed their concern over the rape allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo, but his club Juventus have come out in defense of the superstar.  On Thursday, the Portugal captain was dropped from the Portugal roster for the October fixtures with Poland and Scotland.

The news frenzy around the rape allegations against the Portugal and Juventus star have steadily moved from the back pages to the front pages of newspapers around the world. Earlier this week the Las Vegas Metropolitan police reopened an investigation following claims by Kathryn Mayorga that the Portuguese player raped her in a Vegas hotel in 2009.

Mayorga went public with her story in German magazine Der Spiegel. Mayorga, a 34-year-old US former teacher, was inspired to speak out by the #MeToo movement. “The #MeToo movement and the women who have stood up and disclosed sexual assaults has given Kathryn a lot of courage,” said Leslie Stovall, Mayorga’s lawyer. Ronaldo has firmly denied all accusations, dismissing them as “fake news” and later stating that he has a “clear conscience”.

With the police investigation ongoing, the ramifications on the commercial front could be severe for the global star who has become something of a money machine.

Nike and EA Sports both issued statement, Nike saying: “We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

Meanwhile, EA Sports told the AP: “We have seen the concerning report that details allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo. 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.”

Nike’s contract with the number 7 is reported to be worth around $1 billion (£768m). Ronaldo’s contract with EA Sports is also a valuable asset in the portfolio of the player. “The allegations made over the past week, relating to conduct in 2009, will no doubt lead to his major sponsors checking their sponsorship agreements with the player to see what rights they have,” commented commercial lawyer Simon Leaf at Mishcon de Reya.

“This is likely to include not only their rights to terminate or suspend the relationship if the allegations prove to be accurate, but also whether they may be able to recover past fees paid to him,” said Leaf.

“Recovering amounts that have already paid where there is merit in allegations such as this can be more challenging. Being able to do so would ultimately depend on the contractual terms, and whether the sponsors can demonstrate that any such incident should have been revealed prior to entering into a contract with the sponsor.”

The issue of whether the alleged 2009 incident was declared to Ronaldo’s sponsors could prove crucial, whether he is ever found guilty of the accusation or not.

In the sporting arena Ronaldo, who captains his country and led Portugal to an unprecedented European title at Euro 2016 in France, was left out by Fernando Santos on Thursday from the squad for a Nations League encounter with Poland and a friendly with Scotland. The 33-year-old was also missing from the last Portugal squad with Santos citing the player’s summer move to the Italian champions as the reason.

This time his exclusion was a direct consequence of the rape allegations. Santos, quoted on the website of Portuguese sports newspaper O Jogo, said: “I personally always support my players and here it is not even a question of solidarity, I believe what the player said publicly, he considers [rape] an abject act and clearly reaffirms that he is innocent of what he is being accused of.

“There was a conversation with the player, the president of the federation [Fernando Gomes] and I. We agreed that the player would not be in these two call-ups, this and the next one in November.”

On Twitter Santos added: “In the future, nothing prevents Cristiano from giving his contribution to the national team.”

On the same social media platform, Ronaldo had earlier this week issued a firm denial of the accusations: “I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me,” he wrote. “Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in. Keen as I may be to clear my name, I refuse to feed the media spectacle created by people seeking to promote themselves at my expense.”

Santos left Ronaldo out, but defended Portugal’s talisman. Ronaldo has 154 caps for Portugal and has scored 85 goals in the colours of his country. Juventus – the Torino-based club and serial Italian champions Ronaldo joined from Real Madrid for £99.2m in July –  also stepped out in defense of their player, tweeting: “Cristiano Ronaldo has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus.  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.”

Contact the writer of this story Samindra Kunti at moc.l1611560140labto1611560140ofdlr1611560140owedi1611560140sni@o1611560140fni1611560140