International human rights groups have slammed Saudi Arabia for sportswashing and using world’s most famous soccer players as a “means to distract from its appalling violations of human rights record.”
Dana Ahmed, a Middle East researcher for a right organization said that Christiano Ronaldo, who recently inked a more than 200 million Euros worth contract with Riyadh’s Al-Nassr football team, should highlight gross human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
Ahmad told the rights group that Ronaldo should use his considerable public platform to draw attention to human rights issues in the country.
She said that “Ronaldo shouldn’t allow his fame and celebrity status to become a tool of Saudi sportswashing.”
“It is highly likely that the Saudi authorities will promote Ronaldo’s presence in the country as a means of distracting from the country’s appalling human rights record,” added Ahmed.
“Cristiano Ronaldo should not allow his fame and celebrity status to become a tool of Saudi’s sportswashing. He should use his time at Al-Nassr to speak out about the myriad human rights issues in the country.”
Meanwhile, Ronaldo, who received a lavish warm welcome on Tuesday in Riyadh, said at a limited news conference, “I want to give a different vision of this country and football. This is why I took this opportunity. I am coming here to win, play, enjoy and be part of the success of the country and the culture of the country.”
Some commentators said that Ronaldo doubted he will risk his position as the world’s highest-paid footballer for speaking up on human rights violations.
Some analysts say Ronaldo’s arrival to Saudi Arabia is part of a sportswashing campaign, as CNN claimed on Sunday that the famous football player Lionel Messi will not renew his contract with Paris Saint-Germain and will go to Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia this summer. Also, the move comes as Saudi Arabia reportedly readies a potential joint bid to stage the 2030 World Cup.
“Sportswashing” is the phenomenon of burnishing one’s reputation through sport.
Rights groups have long voiced concern over the grim situation in Saudi Arabia as any form of criticism received a harsh response. The regime has sentenced rights activists to decades in prison for posting tweets critical of the regime.
Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has ramped up arrests of activists, bloggers, intellectuals, and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.
Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedoms of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.
In 2019 alone, Saudi Arabia set a record number of executions after Saudi authorities executed 184 people, despite a general decrease in the number of executions around the world. In April 2020, Reprieve, a UK-based non-profit organization, said Saudi Arabia had carried out its 800th execution.
In 2021-22, Riyadh continued its arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful protesters. Dozens of human rights defenders and activists continued to serve long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms.
Also, Saudi Arabia launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in collaboration with its Arab allies and with arms and logistics support from the US and other Western states.
The war has left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead, and displaced millions more. It has also destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure and spread famine and infectious diseases.