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Why did Saudi soccer league suspend Cristiano Ronaldo?

Ronaldo’s time in Riyadh has been successful, but the Saudi Pro League is facing some challenges after luring many star players to the kingdom in 2023.
Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo was suspended by Saudi Arabia’s soccer body on Thursday for a gesture he made during a match, eliciting strong reactions from fans amid an otherwise successful tenure for the Portuguese superstar in the Gulf country.

What happened: Ronaldo’s Saudi Pro League club Al Nassr beat Riyadh rivals Al Shabab on Sunday. During the match, rival fans were heard chanting “Messi” — a reference to Ronaldo’s longtime rival Lionel Messi. Amid the chants, Ronaldo put his hand near his ear and then made a jerking motion near his waist.

Al Shabab filed a complaint against Ronaldo in response. On Thursday, the Saudi Arabia Football Federation’s Disciplinary and Ethics Committee announced that Ronaldo has been suspended for one game over the gesture. The committee also ordered him to pay 10,000 Saudi riyals ($2,670) to the federation and another 20,000 riyals ($5,330) to Al Shabab. The decision cannot be appealed, the committee said in a statement.

Al Nassr’s next match is against Al Hazm on Thursday evening.

Reactions: The decision drew mixed reactions on Saudi and wider Arabic-language social media. Some users on X criticized Ronaldo for his antics. Saudi journalist Majid al-Menaiya wrote, “What's important to me is that [this] is not repeated, and that our ethics, norms and traditions are respected.”

Others defended Ronaldo, with some users saying Al Nassr fans plan to chant the star player’s name during the seventh minute of the match against Al Hazm in defiance of the suspension.

Ronaldo did not respond to the ban on his social media accounts, but posted a picture of himself working out on Instagram on Thursday with the caption “Can’t stop."

Ronaldo moved to Al Nassr in late 2022, becoming by far the biggest name in the sport to join the Saudi Pro League. His time at the club has been successful. He leads the league in goals and Al Nassr is currently in second place.

Know more: Saudi Arabia is seeking to boost the prestige of its soccer league as part of its sports ambitions and the kingdom will host the FIFA World Cup in 2034.

The Saudi Pro League lured many other top international players last year following Ronaldo’s move, including Neymar and Karim Benzema.

Saudi Arabia’s soccer spending spree has slowed this year, however, amid sagging attendance and rumors that some top players want out of the kingdom.