Malachy Clerkin: Uncomfortable silence as Ronaldo and Reece come to town

This is an area that sports fans everywhere have found no good way to deal with

Details of rape allegations against Christiano Ronaldo   been well-aired over recent years. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Details of rape allegations against Christiano Ronaldo been well-aired over recent years. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

 

This week, two of the shinier pennies in international team sport come rolling into Dublin. Portugal in football on Thursday night, New Zealand in rugby on Saturday. The Aviva hasn’t been packed to full capacity for 21 months; now it will pulse at the seams twice in 48 hours. All known form suggests that Ireland will lose both encounters but we don’t know that for sure just yet and so there is excitement and so there is anticipation.

This is the drill. This is, at least in part, what international sport is for. The best of ours against the best of yours. And when the best of yours are some of the best in the world, we get to share the stage they carry around with them for a couple of hours.

If it goes well, they go home a bruised and shrunken, puffing their cheeks at an uncomfortable experience. If it goes badly, well at least the kids of Ireland got to see what world-class looks like.

Maybe Portugal and the All Blacks will take all the air out of their respective bubbles in the coming days, and then again maybe not

So there’s a light buzz around the place this week. Stephen Kenny’s Ireland look to have turned a corner, Andy Farrell’s Ireland look to have built on the string of good results and performances. Maybe Portugal and the All Blacks will take all the air out of their respective bubbles in the coming days, and then again maybe not. Either way, bring it on. God knows we’ve been long enough without a week like this.

Hidden in plain sight, however, are two of the more uncomfortable stories in modern sport. The cases of Cristiano Ronaldo and Sevu Reece are separate and distinct. They are only mashed together here because of the quirk of them both arriving in the same place in the same week and to consider what, if any, onus it puts on us as an audience in regards to them.

The details of both cases have been well-aired over recent years. The latest development in Ronaldo’s one came last month when a judge in Las Vegas recommended that the civil case brought against him by local woman Kathryn Mayorga regarding her claim that he raped her in 2009 be thrown out of court.

Leaked communications

Magistrate judge Daniel Albregts declared in a 23-page report that evidence based on leaked communications between Ronaldo and his legal team from the Football Leaks data drop should not have been used in the case. Albregts accepted that this was unfortunate from Mayorga’s point of view but felt he had no choice in the matter.

“Dismissing [the] case for the inappropriate conduct of her attorney is a harsh result,” Albregts wrote. “If the court does not grant case-terminating sanctions, [her lawyer’s] actions could have far-reaching, dangerous consequences on the legitimacy of the judicial process.”

Albregts wasn’t making a judgement on Ronaldo’s guilt or innocence. He was saying that since part of Mayorga’s attorney’s case is based on leaked confidential correspondence between Ronaldo and his lawyer, it should be thrown out. The ultimate decision on the matter will be taken by US District Court judge Jennifer Dorsey in the coming weeks.

Thing is, everybody with a working phone can read that leaked correspondence instantly. They can read Ronaldo’s own words, as reported initially in Der Spiegel in 2017 and all around the world ever since. They can, of course, read his emphatic and repeated denials of wrongdoing. They can make up their own mind on what they think of it all.

Sevu Reece was fined NZ$750 in 2018. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Sevu Reece was fined NZ$750 in 2018. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The Sevu Reece case dates back to July 2018, when he was a 21-year-old winger in Waikato. Reece was out drinking with his girlfriend when an argument broke out between them and the rugby player grabbed her and dragged her onto the ground. The pair were separated by a nearby doorman but not before the woman suffered injuries to her face and body.

Reece was arrested and subsequently admitted his guilt. When it came to his time in court, the judge discharged him without conviction on the basis that he had been sober for three months, that his girlfriend had forgiven him and that there was an offer on the table of employment with Connacht Rugby in Ireland, which could potentially be jeopardised with a conviction. Reece was instead fined NZ$750 - around €450. In the end, the Connacht offer was withdrawn.

Maybe it’s all a bit weaselly to be wringing our hands and still sitting down to watch. Are we going to boycott either game because Ronaldo and Reece are playing?

Again, there are so many ways in which both cases are completely different from each other. One deals with a comparatively little-known sportsman in global terms, the other deals with one of the most famous people on the planet. One is still making its way through the courts, the other has been dealt with by the New Zealand justice system. One involves repeated declarations of innocence on the part of the accused, the other came with an immediate acceptance of guilt.

Victim-blaming

The one thing that links the two cases is the accusation of violence towards women. And to put it mildly, this is an area that sports fans everywhere have found no good way to deal with. The spectrum runs from unspeakably gross victim-blaming on one side to hiring a plane to fly a banner over Old Trafford with ‘Believe Kathryn Mayorga’ on it on the other. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, unsure of what to do or where to look.

The easiest thing is not to talk about it. To shrug our shoulders and accept that so goes the world. Ronaldo hasn’t been convicted of anything, Reece was forgiven by his girlfriend. So let’s just move on and let’s settle down to watch a bit of sport, eh?

But of course we should never not talk about it. It’s far too important for that. Everyone can make up their own mind on what they see and how they feel. For some of us, any enjoyment of the week is always going to be tempered because these events are hanging there in the background.

Thing is, maybe not talking about it actually is the more honest approach. Maybe it’s all a bit weaselly to be wringing our hands and still sitting down to watch. Are we going to boycott either game because Ronaldo and Reece are playing? Of course not. So who’s the hypocrite here, really?

Sport lays these conundrums under our noses every now and then. Good luck to anyone who feels armed with a good enough answer for them.