Turkiye President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Cristiano Ronaldo “stands for the Palestinian cause” and bemoaned the Portugal forward being dropped to the bench at the World Cup in Qatar.
Erdogan was speaking at a youth rally at a university campus on Sunday when he was asked his thoughts on the World Cup, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.
“They have wasted Ronaldo,” he replied. “Unfortunately, they have imposed a political ban on him. Sending a footballer like Ronaldo onto the pitch with just 30 minutes remaining in the match ruined his psychology and took away his energy.”
Erdogan, a former semi-professional footballer in Turkey, is well known for his love of the game.
“Ronaldo is someone who stands for the Palestinian cause,” said Erdogan, though it was unclear if he was linking the supposed “political ban” to the footballer’s support for Palestine.
Ronaldo, 37, had a difficult time in Qatar as Portugal crashed out to Morocco in the quarter-finals.
In his last two matches at the World Cup, he was benched by manager Fernando Santos and brought on later as a substitute.
Compounding Ronaldo’s woes, his longtime rival Messi went on to lead Argentina to their first World Cup success in 36 years.
Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, became the joint most-capped player in men’s international football when he came on against Morocco, but left the pitch in tears after their defeat.
Ronaldo had his Manchester United contract terminated last month after he gave an interview criticising the club.
In recent weeks there has been growing speculation that Ronaldo is edging closer to a move to Saudi Arabia at the Al-Nassr football club.
Al-Nassr have reportedly booked Ronaldo for a physical in a deal that is expected to be worth around $210m.
The club is hoping to have a deal finalised in time for the opening of the January transfer window.
According to a report last year, he turned down a multi-million-dollar opportunity to become the face of Saudi Arabian tourism.
Sports and entertainment have formed part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy and improve its international reputation.
However, groups such as Amnesty International have long campaigned against what it says is the kingdom’s use of sportswashing to distract from its human rights violations.
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