Football’s power is a gift and a curse.
The beautiful game turns mortals to demigods who are worshipped all over.
It turns peasants to kings, transforming them with wealth big enough to match some countries’ GDP.
The transformation and turning lives around isn’t a problem. It’s part of the charm, seeing a life changed for the better through one’s talent.
The problem comes when those figures are suddenly untouchable when they’re at the top.
The rape accusations levelled against Cristiano Ronaldo show the dark side of football in its power of creating demigods.
While Ronaldo’s fanboys were foaming at the mouth in defence of their idol, Juventus released a terribly tone-deaf statement in proclaiming their support of the Portuguese great.
The Italian club wrote in a series of tweets: “Cristiano Ronaldo has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus.
“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.”
This statement comes across as saying Ronaldo, who the club paid over R1 billion for, is such a great professional and is dedicated to his job, so there is no way he could rape.
It’s a downright dumb and insensitive statement to make. But sadly, it’s not surprising.
I am not saying that Ronaldo is guilty of the crime he has been accused of. The courts will prove that.
But the evidence levelled against him and reports that he paid huge sums of money to settle the matter out of court means his club and supporters should have some restraint in what they say in defence of him.
But then again, football has created an environment where footballers, especially the good ones, seem to be above the law and reproach.
Pablo Armero continued to play for Colombia despite being arrested for abusing his wife.
Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who killed his girlfriend and fed her corpse to dogs, didn’t struggle to find a club upon his release from prison.
In that club, he played to chants: “We are Bruno.”
There are many instances like this where football has ignored terrible crimes footballers have committed.
It starts small, with star players being excused from doing certain things at training or even being allowed to skip sessions.
That preferential treatment creates a notion that they’re better than certain players and are beyond certain rules. Monsters are then created.
Jabu Mahlangu, formerly Pule, was put on a pedestal by Kaizer Chiefs because of his talent.
He was slapped on the wrist or not punished at all for going AWOL because they knew that when he is there, he is a match winner.
But that approach unwittingly fed Mahlangu’s demons.
Perhaps his story would have turned out differently if Amakhosi or the amateur clubs in Daveyton where he started had stamped their foot on his first transgression and punished him for it.
The problem is that football has created a culture where star players are beyond reproach and can do whatever they want, knowing that their talent will protect them.
But since they’re demigods, they got away with a slap on their wrist.
This mindset needs to change because it’s creating monsters.
* Njabulo Ngidi is a football writer for New Frame.