As Cristiano Ronaldo made his much-anticipated return to Manchester United today, activists took a stand.
Feminist group Level Up flew a plane over the Old Trafford stadium towing a banner with the name of his alleged rape victim, as reported by a Euronews journalist on the ground.
“Believe Kathryn Mayorga," the banner read.
Mayorga says Ronaldo raped her in 2009 in Las Vegas, before requesting to reopen the case in 2018. In 2019, prosecutors in the US said the footballer would not be facing charges as the allegations could not be proven "beyond reasonable doubt."
Ronaldo has always denied the claims. However, the Portuguese striker reportedly paid Mayorga a settlement of €336,000, as part of a deal that required Mayorga to stay silent about the allegations.
"I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me," Ronaldo tweeted in 2018. "Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in."
The feminist campaign group behind the initiative say they wanted to use today's historic match to highlight the "culture of silence around abuse from the football community."
"The football world has remained silent over the claims, whilst fawning over Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United," Level Up said in a statement.
“There’s been almost a complete media blackout on it," said Janey Starling, one of the co-directors of Level Up.
Funded by feminist football fans
“Sexual violence is shrouded in silence and that’s how it is perpetuated," Starling explained to Euronews.
“We wanted to deliver a message to all-powerful and wealthy men that they can’t act without impunity."
“But it was also a message to all survivors to say that we see you," the activist continued. “So it was a message to perpetrators and a gesture of solidarity with victims as well.”
Starling said the event was financed through fundraising.
“A lot of male supporters donated, particularly football fans. So there were a lot of feminist football fans who pitched in, which is particularly beautiful,” she said to Euronews.
“This won’t be the last you see from us."
Ronaldo secured an unexpected return to United after 12 years when he was sold by Juventus last month.
The 36-year-old Portugal forward scored twice, taking Manchester United 2-1 up against Newcastle. United moved to the top of the Premier League table with a final 4-1 victory.