Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Cristiano Ronaldo was subjected to a “political ban” at the World Cup when he compared the Portuguese soccer player to Lionel Messi.
“They wasted Ronaldo. Unfortunately, they have imposed a political ban on him,” Erdogan said on Sunday as he spoke at a youth event in the eastern province of Erzurum.
“Sending a soccer player like Ronaldo on the pitch with just 30 minutes left before the game has ruined his psychology and drained his energy,” said Erdogan.
“Ronaldo is someone who stands up for the Palestinian cause,” he added.
The 37-year-old came on as a substitute in the second half of a World Cup quarter-final match against Morocco, in which Portugal lost 1-0.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid soccer player had also sat on the bench when Portugal faced Switzerland in the round of 16 and came on as a substitute.
The loss to Morocco meant that Ronaldo, the only player to score in five different World Cups, was eliminated in what was most likely his last World Cup and couldn’t hold back his tears as he headed towards the locker rooms.
Ronaldo has never made public statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although false reports and manipulated photos regularly appear on the Internet.
A common story that Ronaldo donated 1.5 million euros ($1.59 million) to Palestinians after auctioning off a Golden Boot Award was rejected in 2019 by a sports management company that represents the soccer player.
An image of Ronaldo holding a sign reading “Together with the Palestinians” in Spanish that was widely shared on the Internet was also manipulated and was in fact an expression of support for the victims of an earthquake in Spain in 2011.
Ronaldo was pictured wearing a Palestinian scarf around his shoulders, but he represented the Palestinian Football Association, and the former Real Madrid and Manchester United player stood next to the head of that association, Jibril Rajoub.
Ronaldo has also met several Israeli ministers and was photographed presenting former Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz with one of his soccer shirts.