As Cristiano Ronaldo made his highly anticipated return to Manchester United today, activists have taken a stand.
Feminist group Higher level flew over Old Trafford stadium towing a banner with the name of his alleged rape victim, as reported by a Euronews reporter on the ground.
“Believe Kathryn Mayorga,” said the banner.
Mayorga says Ronaldo raped her in 2009 in Las Vegas, before asking for the case to be reopened in 2018. In 2019, US prosecutors said the footballer would not face charges because the allegations did not could not be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Ronaldo has always denied the allegations. However, the Portuguese striker is said to have paid Mayorga a settlement of € 336,000, as part of a deal forcing Mayorga to remain silent on the allegations.
“I strongly deny the charges against me,” Ronaldo tweeted in 2018. “Rape is a heinous crime that goes against everything I am and what I believe in.”
The feminist campaign group behind the initiative said it wanted to use today’s historic game to highlight the “culture of silence around the abuse of the football community.”
“The football world has been silent on the claims, while admiring Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United,” Level Up said in a statement.
“There was almost a media blackout on this,” said Janey Starling, one of Level Up’s co-directors.
Funded by feminist football fans
“Sexual violence is shrouded in silence and this is how it continues,” Starling told Euronews.
“We wanted to send a message to all powerful and wealthy men that they cannot act without impunity.”
“But it was also a message to all the survivors to say that we see you”, continued the activist. “So it was a message to the perpetrators and a gesture of solidarity with the victims as well.”
Starling said the event was funded by a fundraiser.
“A lot of male supporters donated, especially football fans. So there were a lot of feminist football fans going out there, which is particularly beautiful, ”she told Euronews.
“It won’t be the last you see from us.”
Ronaldo got a unexpected return at United after 12 years when he was sold by Juventus last month.
The 36-year-old Portuguese striker has scored twice, taking Manchester United 2-1 against Newcastle. United rose to the top of the Premier League table with a 4-1 final victory.