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Football's inconvenient sexual assault problem

When it comes to the issue of rape, the allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo and Benjamin Mendy show that if the footballing community could sweep each new case deep under the carpet, it would
Thu, Sep 09, 2021


When Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Manchester United manager, walks into his press conference tomorrow morning ahead of the resumption of the English Premier League following the international football break, he will know exactly what the bulk of the questions will fixate on.

Will Cristiano make his second debut for the club? Where will he play? How many goals can he score this season? Does his return pose a threat to Edison Cavani or Anthony Martial and does it mean Mason Greenwood goes back to playing on the right, and if so, what happens to Jadon Sancho? There will be some who wonder what it might do to the squad harmony.

Solskjær may even be asked about the money recouped from Ronaldo replica shirt sales. If he and the club's football communications department headed by Karen Shotbolt have any foresight, they will expect (but pray not) to be asked about something else: Ronaldo's rape allegation, which refuses to die.

It's been three or so years since German mag Der Spiegel published a piece in which Ronaldo is accused of rape by American Kathryn Mayorga, with documents to back her up. The 36-year-old has consistently denied any wrongdoing, yet the case remains unsettled.

Solskjær and the club will respond by saying the matter is sub judice and therefore should be left alone. He may even sigh from relief afterwards and move on with his day. Of course, being the manager means questions will fall to him, even if he clearly bears no culpability whatsoever. He may even wonder why his erstwhile club, Juventus was never asked about these allegations.

But the biggest star in the game joining undoubtedly the biggest club in the most popular and richest football league in the world is a different proposition. Ronaldo returns as a gazillion times wealthier man with Ballon D'ors, countless team medals and and and…

Across the same city, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City stand accused of covering up for Benjamin Mendy, letting him play on until the news of his four counts of rape went public the same week Ronaldo's move to United was confirmed.

City subsequently released a 43-word statement confirming Mendy's suspension pending the investigation. It was a poignant moment as it once more showed how, because of the tribalistic nature of football, such matters are a "per club" issue. If the footballing community could sweep each new case deep under the carpet it would.

Mendy was initially arrested and then released under investigation in November last year on suspicion of rape. At the beginning of this year, he was again arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. He was then arrested over yet another allegation of rape – including for reportedly breaching his bail conditions. Reports say Man City were aware throughout.

They may argue that people who are accused still have rights, and that is right. But football, like we've seen with racism and Black Lives Matter, doesn't move in unison – even if we're constantly told it does. For all the nostalgia it is prone to, football can also move on pretty quickly when matters of an unsavoury nature arise.

Many issues are seen as inconvenient truths. So… reports are abound about Manchester City's search for a possible Mendy replacement come the January transfer window. Ronaldo will probably play on Saturday against Newcastle and, considering how they have started the news season, will likely score or play a role in a probably United win.

If that happens, over 70 000 people inside Old Trafford and millions more around the world, including myself, will celebrate another three points (the fortunes of the club come first). Rival fans and critics may point out that it smacks of condoning a rapist or rape culture (just like City were accused), while supporters will lean on the presumption of innocence principle until further notice.

This is all conjecture and presumption, of course. If none of this actually occurs, football will take a sigh of relief as it would count another week gone by without having to confront a thorny issue.