Last weekend, the world’s most famous football player, Cristiano Ronaldo was publicly accused of rape by Kathryn Mayorga, a 34-year-old former school teacher. Kathryn chose to forgo her anonymity by talking to Der Spiegel, a German publication that has been reporting on the case for over a year. Ronaldo has denied the allegations in a statement on Twitter.
We say publicly, because this allegation isn’t new, it was made nine years ago but settled privately out-of-court in a deal that included Kathryn staying silent. The accusation came after a night out in Las Vegas where Ronaldo allegedly invited a 25-year-old Kathryn and her friends to his penthouse for a party, where Kathryn claims he raped her in one of the bedrooms.
Her harrowing account -which you can read in full here- states that she said 'no' several times, which Ronaldo appears to confirm in a questionnaire he filled out for his lawyers in the initial case. Der Spiegel's reporting reveals contradictions in Kathryn and Ronaldo's accounts; at one stage, Ronaldo seems to suggest he believed there was some form of consent because she had ‘made herself available.’ Against that, when asked if she ever raised her voice, screamed or yelled, he apparently answered: 'she said no and stop several times.'
Subsequently, Kathryn’s lawyer struck a deal with Ronaldo’s team to settle for $375,000 on the condition that she stay silent but also that he read a letter she wrote to him.
Now, nine years later, Kathryn says that she has been inspired to pursue civil action, with a new lawyer who wants to void her original settlement as Ronaldo apparently never received the aforementioned letter. Now, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department have re-opened the case, stating, 'as of September 2018, the case has been reopened and our detectives are following up on information being provided by the victim.'
The news was strangely slow to spread. In fact, most major media outlets didn't pick it up until Ronaldo took to Instagram last Sunday to call Der Spiegel’s article ‘fake news', and many in the football community on social media remain silent. BBC Sport only began reporting on it on Tuesday, three days after the news broke. talkSPORT, a sporting commentary outlet with over 1.6million Twitter followers, have tweeted 66 times in the last 24 hours alone, and are yet to mention it on their feed. They have reported on football-adjacent news, such as Peter Crouch trolling Kanye West, but not this.
The silence was so deafening that Spanish football correspondent for London Evening Standard, Ben Hayward, shared Der Spiegel's article and tweeted, 'Plenty staying silent, I didn't want to.'
Other journalists have also noted the silence from the sporting world:
And while the story is gradually getting the attention it deserves, it sits amid a sea of reports about Ronaldo's football statistics. At the time of writing this, six of the stories about Ronaldo in Google News are about the rape case, while 13 are about his transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus.
According to Alison Kelvin, sports editor at the Mail on Sunday, this is because it's out of their remit. 'I would really discourage my reporters at the moment from reporting on a heavily legal issue,' she told Grazia, 'because they're not doing the research, the news reporters are. News reporters are the ones going off to Spain and America where the woman is to try and talk to her, not sports reporters.
'But while he's playing he would still be covered as part of the sports coverage,' she continued, 'there has to be a separation there. While he's innocent, I wouldn't change the way we report on it.'
Outside of official media the worship of Ronaldo continues apace. Scrolling through tweets about the allegations and seeing endless videos of his best football moments makes for uncomfortable reading. His own team, Juventus FC, despite sidelining him for upcoming matches, tweeted referring to him as a 'great champion'.
But it's the backlash towards Kathryn that is more troubling. Widely accused on social media of lying, of wanting more money or fame (although sadly this isn't only the story for women make allegations of sexual assault against sports stars), she has reportedly gone into hiding because she is too 'emotionally fragile,' according to her lawyer Larissa Drohobyczer. 'She has decided not to make herself available to the media and the public because of her emotional state. It’s not pleasant for her,' Drohobyczer said.
'What's also weak is the reactions of some of [Ronaldo's] fans here on Twitter. I'm not going to comment much about them, but they truly, honestly shock me,' tweeted Christoph Winterbach, the sports editor who worked on the original story, 'I can now understand why Mayorga was afraid to go public with her claims back in 2009. I can imagine that she didn't take the decision lightly to put her name and face to this story now.'
It's an uncomfortable repeating of history, fans avidly supporting sportsmen despite being accused or charged with abhorrent crimes. And such worship continues to this day for some of the world's 'greats'.
Floyd Mayweather, a court-certified domestic abuser, still commands respect as one of the greatest boxers of all time. Bruno Fernandes, a Brazilian goalkeeper, was signed to a professional team after serving four years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend. Danny Simpson still plays for Leicester City despite being convicted of assaulting the mother of his children.
Kobe Bryant - another 'world's greatest' - continued to play for the LA Lakers until 2016 despite being accused of sexual assault in 2003. He denied the accusation, but during the investigation he said, 'I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter', but the case was dropped when the accuser refused to testify.
There are many, many more stories just like this. Ronaldo himself was sentenced to a two-year-suspended-sentence for tax evasion in June this year, days before playing in the World Cup where he scored a hat trick for Portugal and was celebrated as a hero. It's admittedly a very different crime to sexual assault, but it serves to prove that as long as you excel in sport, you can be charged, convicted and even serve jail time, but you will always receive a hero’s welcome upon your return.
'Athletes have been associated with heroes like Heracles since ancient times,' says Heather Reid, a professor specialising in sports philosophy, 'I think that their athletic excellence inspires us to believe that humanity can achieve great things, even, and especially, when we come from humble origins.'
'[Athletes] are expected to benefit the community, but they are quite capable of harming it,' she continued, 'Achilles in the Iliad is a good example of a hero who did great things, but also committed the abominable sin of dragging Hector's dead body behind his chariot. Greatness is a double-edged sword, heroes can do great good and great harm. Letting them get away with doing great social harm, however, only compounds it.'
This very damage has even spawned scientific research. According to a study into the arrest and conviction rates of male collegiate and professional athletes, these men are ‘significantly less likely to be convicted’ of sexual assault, despite being ‘far more likely’ to be arrested or indicted for the crime. And this is all tied to their heroism.
Male athletes at a professional level are protected by their club, their talent brings love and support from fans- which in turn brings money and status to the team they play for. The athlete is awarded with further money and power and status, all of which they can use to defend themselves against any criminal charges they are faced with.
The silence around the Ronaldo case, the aggressive support on his side, the fact that he is laughing and joking on Instagram live after being accused of rape, it all proves that sportsmen are treated as though they’re above the law and even if they're charged with crimes, that worship will continue and so their careers will excel regardless. As we reach the one year anniversary of #MeToo, is it not time we stop worshipping sportsmen and begin to worship the women that speak out against them? They are the true heroes in this world.