Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Cristiano Ronaldo was subjected to a “political ban” at the World Cup, as he compared the Portuguese footballer to Lionel Messi.
“They have wasted Ronaldo. Unfortunately, they have imposed a political ban on him,” Erdogan said on Sunday while speaking at a youth event in the eastern Erzurum province.
“Sending a footballer like Ronaldo to the pitch with just 30 minutes remaining to the match ruined his psychology and took away his energy,” Erdogan said.
“Ronaldo is someone who stands for the Palestinian cause,” he added.
The 37-year-old came on as a substitute in the second half of a World Cup quarterfinal game against Morocco in which Portugal lost 1-0.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid footballer had also been on the bench when Portugal took on Switzerland in the round of 16, making an appearance as a substitute.
The loss against Morocco meant that Ronaldo, the only player to score in five separate World Cups, was eliminated from what will most likely be his last World Cup, and was unable to hold back his tears as he walked towards the changing rooms.
Ronaldo has never issued any public statements on the Israel-Palestine conflict, despite false reports and doctored photos emerging periodically online.
A widely-circulated story that Ronaldo had donated 1.5m euros ($1.59m) to Palestinians after he auctioned off a golden boot award was denied in 2019 by a sports management company representing the footballer.
An image of Ronaldo holding a sign saying “Together with the Palestinians” in Spanish that was widely shared online was also doctored and was in fact an expression of support for the victims of an earthquake in Spain in 2011.
Ronaldo has been pictured with a Palestinian scarf around his shoulders, but it represented the Palestinian Football Association, and the ex-Real Madrid and Manchester United player was standing next to the head of that association, Jibril Rajoub.
Ronaldo has also met several Israeli ministers and has been photographed presenting one of his football shirts to ex-Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz.