The Associated Press LONDON (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo faced growing heat Thursday from sponsors over a rape allegation in the United States after Nike and video game maker EA Sports expressed concern about the conduct of the soccer superstar, who has denied the accusations.
The five-time world player of the year, who was seen driving into the Juventus practice complex in the morning, received public backing from the Italian club, which said it would not judge him on the 2009 assault claim by a Nevada woman.
The show of support came shortly after Nike broke its silence in a statement to AP that described the company’s unease over its association with Ronaldo, which started in 2003. The latest terms signed in 2016 are worth a reported $1 billion, and Ronaldo has suggested that it was a deal “for life.”
But the Beaverton, Ore.-based company is troubled by details emerging from a lawsuit filed last week in a Nevada state court by the accuser, who alleges she was raped by Ronaldo in Las Vegas. Police have also reopened an investigation.
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Nike said in an email to the AP.
One of the wealthiest and most gifted soccer players of all time, Ronaldo wears Nike boots and appears in its advertising. The Portugal captain is also the face of the EA Sports FIFA video game franchise, appearing on the cover of the 2019 game that was released worldwide last week.
“We have seen the concerning report that details allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo,” EA Sports told the AP. “We are closely monitoring the situation, as we expect cover athletes and ambassadors to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with EA’s values.”
Whereas other players might be winding down their careers at 33, Ronaldo is still in demand by leading clubs around the world. The former Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United forward made the third big transfer of his career in July, leaving Real Madrid after nine years for Juventus, a move that cost the Italian club €112 million (then $132 million).
Ronaldo “has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus,” the Italian league champions said. “The events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion.”
Neither Ronaldo nor Juventus have addressed the allegation by Kathryn Mayorga that she received a payoff of $375,000 in 2010 after being put under pressure by the footballer’s “fixers” to keep quiet about an incident in a penthouse hotel suite.
The investment in players is so vast in soccer that clubs are reticent to enforce morality clauses by firing them. Sponsors have already stuck with Ronaldo even though he pleaded guilty in July to tax fraud in Spain and agreed to pay a fine of around $20 million.
Morata finds net for Chelsea
Former Real Madrid and Juventus striker Alvaro Morata ended a miserable spell of form with the only goal of the game on Thursday as Chelsea recorded its second straight 1-0 victory in the Europa League, against plucky Hungarian side Vidi.
Elsewhere, substitute Patrick Cutrone netted twice in nine minutes to lift AC Milan to a 3-1 comeback triumph at home to Olympiakos, while teenage forward Emile Smith Rowe scored his first senior goal as Arsenal made the most of its longest-ever trip for a European game by winning 3-0 at Qarabag.
Like Chelsea, Milan and Arsenal, last year’s semifinalist Salzburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Zurich, Sporting, Frankfurt, Krasnodar and Dinamo Zagreb also made it two victories from two group games.
Arsenal’s Armenia forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan was one of three players who didn’t make the 4,000-kilometer trip to the Azerbaijan capital of Baku.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are in a territorial dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Mkhitaryan also skipped a trip to Azerbaijan three years ago while playing for Borussia Dortmund, with the German club citing security concerns.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery said Mkhitaryan “cannot travel here.” It’s not clear what will happen if the team reaches the final in Baku.
In London, Spain forward Morata scored his first goal since August, and only his second of the season, when he swept the ball in from close range following a header from Brazil playmaker Willian, to earn Chelsea maximum points against Vidi.
Substitute Ross Barkley then almost made it 2-0 when his header hit the crossbar a few minutes later.
Chelsea dominated but Vidi defended stoutly and occasionally threatened on the counter attack, forcing two stunning saves from goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in front of the watching Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.