Israel’s Foreign Ministry is considering the idea of recruiting Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo as part of efforts to promote normalisation with Saudi Arabia. Ronaldo plays for Al-Nassr Football Club in the kingdom.
According to a report by KAN News on Sunday, the 38-year-old’s high-profile celebrity status and large social media following could be used effectively by the occupation state in a normalisation drive with Saudi Arabia. However, the ministry is still discussing the idea and no official decision has been made. Prior to signing Ronaldo, Al-Nassr had around 800,000 followers on Instagram; the figure now stands at 12.8 million.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid player made the move to the Riyadh-based team in late December on a two-and-a-half year contract worth over $200 million including commercial deals. It is said to be the biggest salary ever in football.
Ronaldo has previously promoted Israeli companies, having appeared in several advertisements for Israeli telecommunications firm HOT. In 2017, one of his five Ballon d’Or trophies was sold to Israel’s richest man, Idan Ofer, in a charity auction for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
Despite there being no formal diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, there has been growing speculation that Saudi Arabia will follow Gulf states the UAE and Bahrain in normalising ties with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced his hopes that the kingdom will be the next Arab state to sign the Abraham Accords. In December last year, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told the American Jewish Committee that, “Normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel is only a matter of time.”
Israeli journalist Gili Cohen has expressed scepticism over the initiative bearing fruit and was quoted by the Express as saying: “I don’t think that peace between the two countries depends on Ronaldo. There are still a few things that are more important.”