Why Cristiano Ronaldo has been banned in Saudi Arabia and why his gesture is offensive – The Athletic

By Dan Sheldon7h ago

Cristiano Ronaldo has been suspended for one game by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s (SAFF) ethics and disciplinary committee.

The Saudi FA was investigating Ronaldo after he appeared to make a lewd gesture towards supporters of opponents Al Shabab at the weekend.

As well as the suspension, Ronaldo has been ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 Saudi riyals (£2,108, €2,462, $2,666) to the SAFF and a further 20,000 Saudi riyals to Al Shabab to cover the costs of the complaint filing fees.


The Al Nassr forward was widely criticised in the country following the incident, which is not the first time he has performed such actions at the end of a match.

Ronaldo joined Al Nassr in January 2024 after his Manchester United contract was terminated by mutual consent in November 2022 following his public criticism of manager Erik ten Hag. He is contracted to the Saudi club until 2025 and is paid a reported £173million ($219m) a year.

The Athletic breaks down what happened…

What did Ronaldo do?

The 39-year-old appeared to make a lewd gesture at the end of his side’s 3-2 win against Al Shabab in the Saudi Pro League (SPL) on Sunday.

Videos posted on social media show Ronaldo putting his hand to his ear before making a gesture in front of his genital area. This was seemingly being directed at rival fans.

Supporters can be heard chanting “Messi”, a nod to Ronaldo’s long-term rival, Lionel Messi, which seemed to provoke his subsequent reaction.

Although the footage was not broadcast on TV, Waleed Al-Farraj, a popular Saudi journalist and presenter, said the disciplinary committee was “facing the biggest test”.

“Everything has limits, no matter how (much of a) star you are,” Al-Farraj added.

Ronaldo scored a 21st-minute penalty in the match, with Brazil’s Talisca scoring the other two goals, to keep Al Nassr in second place in the SPL, seven points behind Al Hilal.


One year of Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia

Why is it offensive?

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most conservative countries and Amnesty International describes it as a place “where basic human rights are ignored” and where people have their “freedoms restricted”.

When Ronaldo appeared to perform a similarly obscene gesture in April 2024, a Saudi lawyer, Nouf bin Ahmed, noted that such actions are “considered a crime of public dishonour” and that “it is one of the crimes that entails arrest and deportation if committed by a foreigner”.


Has Ronaldo said anything?

The former United and Real Madrid forward reportedly provided a statement to the disciplinary committee to explain the gesture he made.

“I respect all clubs and the action in the shot expresses strength and victory and is not disgraceful, and we are accustomed to it in Europe,” Ronaldo is reported to have said.

The Athletic contacted Ronaldo’s representatives for comment but did not receive a reply.

Which game will he miss?

Ronaldo was initially included in Luis Castro’s squad to play bottom-placed Al Hazem today (Thursday), but will now be unavailable.

He will be available again for the first leg of Al Nassr’s AFC Champions League quarter-final tie at Al Ain on Monday.

Has he done it before?

Several clips appear to show Ronaldo making similar lewd gestures during his time in Saudi Arabia.

As he left the pitch following a Riyadh Season Cup final defeat against Al Hilal on February 8, Al Hilal supporters threw a team scarf at the forward.

Ronaldo picked it up and seemingly rubbed it on his crotch area before throwing it back.

There have been other occasions in which Ronaldo has done something similar. In April 2024, he appeared to grab his genitals as he made his way to the dugout following a 2-0 defeat against Al Hilal.

Ronaldo was heavily criticised after the incident and Al Nassr defended their star player by briefing that he made the gesture after receiving a blow to his genital area, and so was not taunting supporters.

What happens next?

It is an embarrassing moment for Ronaldo, especially as it is not the first time he has been criticised for making lewd gestures.

Given he is Al Nassr’s highest-paid player and also their top scorer with 22 goals this season, he is unlikely to be disciplined internally by the club.

(Top photo: Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images)

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Dan Sheldon is a football news reporter for The Athletic, covering Manchester City and Manchester United. He spent four years writing about Southampton FC, two of which were at the Southern Daily Echo. Follow Dan on Twitter @dansheldonsport