With eight textbook examples of misinformation in just two minutes, the Iranian public television channel IRIB broadcast a report on the football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo on June 15. The report made it seem like Ronaldo is a champion of the Palestinian cause, while expressing his “hatred” for Israel. But in reality, the story was rife with disinformation and crudely edited.
Television programs in Iran are state-run, and most of them promote the ideology and policies of the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who personally appoints the heads of each channel.
Many Iranians, aware of the propaganda broadcast on state TV, turn to Persian channels from abroad that are available via satellite.
On June 15, it was one of these state-run TV channels, IRIB, broadcast a report in Persian about Cristiano Ronaldo and his supposed support for the Palestinian cause.
In the two-minute report, we counted no less than eight falsehoods… which we’ll take a closer look at in this article.
Playing against Iceland, not Israel
First off, the report claims that the captain of the Israeli national team approached Ronaldo at the end of a match between his team and Portugal. He wanted to exchange his shirt with the superstar, but the latter allegedly refused his request.
Thanks to a reverse image search via Google (see here how to do it), we can find articles about the scene in this video in different languages, including Portuguese. In reality, Aron Gunnarsson is not the captain of the Israeli football team, but an Icelandic football player.
In this video, we see the same image, but with the correct explanation. The Icelandic and Portuguese flags are clearly visible on the football jerseys.
The scene took place in 2016 when the two countries played to a 1-1 draw. According to the Icelandic footballer, when he asked for a jersey swap, Ronaldo told him they could swap jerseys inside the tunnel leading to the locker room.
The claim that Ronaldo refused to swap shirts with an Israeli player is therefore false, but that doesn’t stop it from being recycled several times a year on Iranian social networks.
Ronaldo was talking about Syria, not Israel
Around 30 seconds into the report, an interview with Ronaldo is dubbed in Persian. According to IRIB, the player says: “Among football fans, Israelis are the most disgusting, I can’t stand them. I won’t trade my jersey with a killer.”
This translation is completely false. If you do a reverse image search on Google Images, you can easily find the original interview.
The 20-second video was published by Ronaldo in 2016 to show his support for Syrian children. The striker actually says: “I know you are suffering too much […] you are the real heroes, do not lose hope, the world is with you”.
He published the video in the midst of increasing attacks on civilians by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Both Iran and Russia were providing military assistance to Bashar al-Assad’s army in these attacks.
No Golden Boot sold at auction
The next claim in the report is one that has commonly resurfaced about Ronaldo.
The Iranian television channel claimed that the footballer sold one of his awards, the Golden Boot, which is offered to Europe’s top goalscorer each year by the European Sports Media Group. They said he sold the trophy at auction for €1.4 million and donated the money to build a school in the Gaza Strip.
This rumour has been repeatedly denied by Gestifute, a company that manages Ronaldo’s public relations. And according to the official website of the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum in Funchal, his hometown, the footballer’s four Golden Boots are on display there.
To illustrate this claim further, the Iranian channel broadcasted images of a poster in the Gaza Strip showing Ronaldo and the words “thank you Ronaldo” in English and Arabic. But these date back to 2016, when a Palestinian child, a victim of a fire, had visited the Real Madrid training camp to take pictures with the Portuguese star. These thank-you posters had indeed been put up in Gaza, but the context has nothing to do with IRIB’s claims.
A photo with Palestinian football officials
IRIB then showed a picture of Ronaldo and a group of others all wearing a scarf with the Palestinian flag. The report says: “He has become a target of corrupt officials because of his open and massive support for Palestine.”
This photo shows delegates from the Palestinian Football Association at FIFA. The man on the right is Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestinian Football Association. The scarf displays the flag of the Palestinian Football Association with its logo.
This is not a sign of support for the Palestinian cause. Ronaldo has also met many Israeli politicians and has given his jersey to Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister in 2019, or met Shimon Presse, former Israeli president in 2011.
A clipped interview with Sepp Blatter
The report then includes a video of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter “reacting with anger and wrath because of Ronaldo’s support for the Palestinians” according to the Iranian journalist. According to IRIB, Blatter says: “Ronaldo acts like a little boss and wastes his money on his hair like the models”.
To find the original video, just use two keywords in Google: Sepp Blatter and Ronaldo, it appears in the first results.
This video of Blatter turns out to be an excerpt from his interview at Oxford University in 2013, when a journalist asks him who his favourite football player is between Messi and Ronaldo. Blatter praises both and says they are different.
In particular, in the excerpt taken and truncated by Iranian TV, he says: “Ronaldo is the commander of the field and it is good to have players like that, it gives life to football. One of them spends more money on his hair, but it doesn’t matter, I can’t say which one is better.”
Not an Israeli politician, but Italian
Further on, the Iranian channel claims that Ronaldo refuses to shake hands with an Israeli official “while refusing the president’s offer to visit Israel”.
In the video, there are clues to find the original: Ronaldo is wearing a Juventus shirt, the name of the Saudi capital Riyadh is written in the background and a year, 2019.
Typing “Saudi Arabia”, “football match” and “Juventus” into Google brings up a video of the Italian Super Cup final between Lazio and Juventus, played in Riyadh in 2019.
This scene of Ronaldo refusing to shake hands with an official occurred at the medal ceremony and the man in the suit was Luca Ferrari, an Italian politician, Italy’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time, and now Italy’s ambassador to China.
Ronaldo, visibly angered by the defeat, immediately removed his silver medal and ignored Luca Ferrari’s hand.
Since there has never been an Israeli official in Saudi Arabia, as the two countries have no diplomatic relations, we can be sure that this claim by Iranian TV is false.
Not a speech against Israel, but a speech about accepting the Medal of Honour
The Iranian state TV report continues with a speech by Ronaldo, over which a voice-over has been added, purporting to translate his words: “If I said even once that I love the Zionist occupation regime, FIFA would select me as the best football player, but I prefer to support the poor and hungry Palestinian children, rather than accept the Israeli invitation.”
This translation is once again completely wrong. We can find the original words via a reverse image search on Google.
This video was taken in January 2014, at an official ceremony in Lisbon where the player was receiving the distinction of “Grand Officer of the Order of the Infante Dom Henrique”, an honorary title in Portugal, awarded by Aníbal Cavaco Silva, Portuguese president at the time.
In his brief speech after receiving the award, he said: “I am very happy. Everyone I love is here, except my family who unfortunately could not attend this ceremony for personal and professional reasons. This is a very special moment for me and for all the Portuguese people who are here. I am extremely satisfied. I hope to continue on the path I have taken since the beginning of my career, to win trophies and to be successful both personally and as a team, and to achieve all this in the name of Portugal.”
No mention was made of Israel or Palestine.
Lorca earthquake survivors, not Palestinians
At the end of the report, Ronaldo appears with a banner that says: “Together with the Palestinians” alongside the Palestinian flag. This image was doctored.
Again, a reverse Google search finds the original photos and many more photos of the same campaign by other Real Madrid players with the same banner.
That campaign dates back to 2011: it was in support of the survivors of an earthquake in Lorca, Spain, which killed nine people. And the real banner displays a red and white ribbon, not a Palestinian flag.