Ronaldo Faces Backlash for Alleged Rude Gesture in Saudi Match

Cristiano Ronaldo, the star striker of Al Nassr, has sparked a furor over his apparent obscene taunt in a Saudi league match against Al Shabab on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. The Portuguese player, who scored a penalty in the first half, was seen making a gesture with his hand near his pelvis and cupping his ear, as if to mock the rival fans, who were chanting the name of his arch-rival Lionel Messi .

The gesture, which was caught on video and circulated widely on social media, has drawn heavy criticism from fans, pundits, and officials, who accused Ronaldo of disrespecting the Saudi culture and values, and violating the rules of fair play and sportsmanship. Some have even called for a ban or a fine for the 39-year-old player, who joined the Riyadh-based club in December 2022 for a record-breaking fee of $120 million .

Ronaldo, who has a league-leading 22 goals this season, has not commented on the incident, nor has his club or his agent. However, some of his teammates and supporters have defended him, saying that he was provoked by the hostile crowd and that he did not intend to offend anyone. They also pointed out that Ronaldo has been a positive influence on the Saudi league and has helped promote the country’s image and tourism .

A Tense Match between Two Rival Teams

The incident occurred in a tense match between Al Nassr and Al Shabab, two of the top teams in the Saudi Pro League, which is considered one of the most competitive and lucrative leagues in the Middle East. The match, which was held at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, ended with a 3-2 victory for Al Nassr, thanks to a late brace by Brazilian midfielder Talisca .

The match was also marred by several fouls, yellow cards, and a red card for Al Shabab defender Abdullah Al-Zori, who was sent off for a second booking in the 88th minute. The referee also awarded two penalties, one for each team, which were both converted by Ronaldo and Al Shabab’s Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah .

The result put Al Nassr in second place in the league table, four points behind the leaders Al Hilal, who have a game in hand. Al Shabab dropped to third place, six points behind Al Nassr. Both teams have seven matches left to play in the season, which will end on April 28 .

A Growing Interest in Saudi Football

The incident involving Ronaldo also highlighted the growing interest and investment in Saudi football, which has attracted some of the world’s best players and coaches in recent years. The Saudi Pro League, which was founded in 1976, has 16 teams and is sponsored by the Saudi Telecom Company (STC). The league has a total budget of $1.2 billion for the 2023-2024 season, making it the richest league in Asia and the 10th richest in the world .

The league has also been expanding its global reach and visibility, by signing broadcasting deals with several international networks, such as ESPN, beIN Sports, and Sky Sports. The league has also hosted several prestigious events, such as the Spanish Super Cup, the Italian Super Cup, and the Riyadh Season Cup, which featured some of the top European clubs, such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain .

The league has also been improving its standards and quality, by implementing various reforms and initiatives, such as the introduction of the video assistant referee (VAR) system, the establishment of the Saudi Football Development Program, and the launch of the Saudi Professional Football Academy. The league has also been supporting the national team, which qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and won the 2023 AFC Asian Cup in China .

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