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RIYADH: Nassr’s Portuguese forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo takes a penalty kick to score his team’s first goal during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Shabab and Al-Nassr. – AFP
RIYADH: Nassr’s Portuguese forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo takes a penalty kick to score his team’s first goal during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Shabab and Al-Nassr. – AFP
Saudi football body suspends, fines Ronaldo over gesture

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s football governing body on Thursday suspended Cristiano Ronaldo for one game over a gesture he made on the pitch last weekend that was judged a “provocation”. The Saudi Arabian Football Federation said the Al-Nassr captain was also fined a total of 30,000 riyals ($8,000) for the move, which broke rules against provoking the public during a match.

The decision cannot be appealed. Video emerged after his side’s 3-2 win against Al-Shabab showing Ronaldo making a repeated thrusting gesture towards his groin in response to crowds taunting him by chanting the name of his longtime rival, Lionel Messi. The content quickly went viral and surged to the top of Saudi social media trending topics.

Sports newspaper Al-Riyadiya reported Ronaldo as saying he respected all football clubs and that the gesture expressed “strength and victory” — not offence — and was considered acceptable in Europe. The 39-year-old, a five-time winner of the UEFA Champions League, was the first major star to move to the kingdom when he penned a deal with Al-Nassr in January 2023.

Saudi Pro League teams have gone on a spending spree to lure big-name players, and the country is set to host the 2034 World Cup as part of a broader move into global sport. France’s Karim Benzema, Brazilian star Neymar and Senegalese forward Sadio Mane have also left Europe behind for bumper pay packets in Saudi.

But Riyadh has been accused by its critics of “sportswashing” by using athletics to improve its international reputation after widespread criticism of its human rights and environmental record. — AFP

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