Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United was met with a feminist protest in the sky above Old Trafford.
An expectant sell-out crowd chorused the 36-year-old’s name as he emerged from the tunnel ahead of a second debut for the club following last month’s £20 million move from Juventus.
Shortly after the Portuguese star’s entrance, a plane – organised by feminist campaign group Level Up – circled Old Trafford for much of the first half.
The aircraft flew over the stadium trailing a banner with the words ‘believe Kathryn Mayorga’, in reference to an ongoing civil case taken against Ronaldo in the United States, the Daily Mail report.
Kathryn Mayorga, 37, reported a rape allegation in the hours after meeting Ronaldo in Las Vegas during June 2009, the month in which Real Madrid parted with a then-world record £80m for his services.
A criminal investigation ended in 2019, with the Las Vegas police department stating that the allegation could not “be proven beyond reasonable doubt”.
Mayorga has a civil suit worth £56m which is ongoing. Ronaldo has strenuously denied the claims and branded them ‘fake news’.
Ronaldo seemed undeterred by the impassioned protest as he went on to score two goals in his comeback game, resulting in a 4-1 victory for Manchester United over Newcastle.
Mayorga, a former model is claiming £56million in damages – including £18m for her past ‘pain and suffering’, £18m for future “pain and suffering” and another £18m for punitive damages, court documents revealed in April.
Level Up say their demonstration was to highlight that “the football world remains silent over the claims whilst it fawns over Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United”.
“One of the world’s most famous athletes has been accused of rape, but there has been almost universal silence about it,” said Janey Starling, co-director of Level Up.
“Manchester United have not acknowledged that there are unresolved rape allegations against Ronaldo and are giving him a hero’s welcome.
“As a society, we can’t let a woman’s story of rape be silenced. It is an uncomfortable reality that people aren’t speaking out about.’
The Portugal star and his representatives agreed a £270,000 out-of-court settlement with Mayorga in 2010, which included the insertion of a non-disclosure agreement.
Mayorga since said that she was “mentally incapacitated” when signing the agreement. Ronaldo’s lawyers accepted that the settlement exists but insisted it was “by no means a confession of guilt”.
Starling added: “We stand in solidarity with Kathryn Mayorga, and every single survivor of sexual violence across the world. We’re sending a message of solidarity to all survivors who refuse to be silenced, and a message to football that rape allegations can’t be kicked off the pitch.”