(OPED: TO ME, THIS IS PROOF THAT PRESIDENT PUTIN HAS NO FAITH IN RUSSIAN ATHLETICS ABILITY TO COMPETE ON A WORLD STAGE, HE OBVIOUSLY THINKS THEY ARE INFERIOR SO HE FELT HE HAD TO DOPE THEM UP. THIS IS A PATHETIC LACK OF FAITH IN RUSSIAS OWN PEOPLE, VERY SAD.) (TRS)
Grigory Rodchenkov (Vitaly Belousov / TASS)
Two Russian athletes have confirmed the existence of a doping cocktail described by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of a Moscow anti-doping lab, in the first admission of involvement since Russia was accused of running a state-sponsored doping program.
Rodchenkov fled to the U.S. after telling The New York Times newspaper that he had provided athletes with banned substances — including during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which Russia hosted.
A probe by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused Russia of running a state-sponsored doping program.
WADA is meeting next week to review a ruling imposing sanctions on Russian athletes. The International Olympic Committee is also expected to decide the fates of two dozen Russian athletes in December, ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
During the Sochi Olympics, Rodchenkov said, he provided Russian athletes with a doping cocktail of different steroids mixed with alcohol.
In Russia Rodchenkov’s account has largely been dismissed as the product of fantasy and investigators have opened a case against him. Earlier this week, Russia issued a request for his extradition.
Two anonymous Russian athletes and an athletics manager interviewed by Russia’s biggest sports channel Match TV said on Wednesday the cocktail was given in the form of three unmarked pill containers with colored caps.
The athletes chose their own dosage and dissolved the pill in their mouth with a sip of alcohol, one of the athletes said.
“One tablet gave me a boost, the effect was very strong,” Match TV’s website cited Nikolai P., an athlete who took the so-called “Rodchenkov cocktail”, as saying.
A sports manager, identified as Nikolai R., said the cocktail had been Rodchenkov’s idea, but that the substances were produced by a person known as “Vitya-Jintropin,” a dealer in steroids. Jintropin is a growth hormone.
The third athlete who spoke with Match TV said she had pretended to take the drugs and only learned about the contents of the cocktail she was given after the scandal broke.
“I wasn’t the only one to do so, at least one of my acquaintances” also accepted the unmarked containers with a set of instructions and told Rodchenkov she was consuming their contents, she noted. The athlete said she ultimately disposed of the bottles.
“I couldn’t even sell it to anyone because I had no idea what I’d be selling,” she said.
This is the first time that athletes still in Russia have admitted some of the claims made by WADA and Rodchenkov. But, commenting to the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, sports analyst Alexei Durnavo said that far from admitting Russia’s guilt the report likely aimed at discrediting Rodchenkov personally, while leaving untouched the question of Russian state participation in the doping scandal.
Executives from Papa John’s, the official pizza company of the NFL, expressed disappointment on a conference call Wednesday about the league’s ongoing player protests during the national anthem.
“The NFL has hurt us,” company founder and CEO John Schnatter said. “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”
Executives said the company has pulled much of its NFL television advertising and that the NFL has responded by giving the company additional future spots.
“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter said, noting he thought the issue had been “nipped in the bud” a year and a half ago.
In revising sales estimates for the next quarter, Papa John’s president and chief operating officer Steve Ritchie said on the call that the NFL deal was the primary suspect behind the decline and that “we expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place.”
Ritchie said that research has found that Papa John’s has been the most recognized sponsor associated with the NFL for two years running, which he said means the company’s performance can track with that of the league.
Papa John’s has a deal with not only the NFL, but also with 23 individual teams.
Company executives declined to disclose exactly how much money in projected sales Papa John’s lost from its association with the NFL and declining ratings, which mean fewer people are ordering their product for game days, they said.
ESPN reached out to 18 NFL official sponsors in the last few days and asked the companies about its current relationship with the league and if any marketing programs had been changed due to the turmoil. Only five sponsors responded with a comment.
Verizon spokesperson Jim Gerace wrote via email that “our discussions with any partner are between us and while we haven’t done anything different, we don’t discuss future plans.”
“We are not going to critique their performance in public just as I wouldn’t expect them to critique ours,” Gerace added.
A Hyundai spokesperson said in a statement, “Hyundai participated in constant dialogue with the league to discuss all aspects of our partnership, including national anthem protests. We’ve been pleased with the frequency and openness of those conversations.”
A spokesperson for Dannon, whose Oikos brand has an official NFL deal, said: “We continue to monitor the situation carefully and have not made changes to our advertising or related plans.”
Nike and Anheuser-Busch referred to previously issued statements.
League sponsors that either didn’t return a message after 24 hours or declined comment included: PepsiCo, Mars, Visa, Campbell’s Soup, Procter & Gamble, Castrol, Bose, McDonald’s, Nationwide, Microsoft, USAA, Marriott and Bridgestone.
Like this post? Spread the word and share it on social media.
Israeli gold-medalist judoka Tal Flicker singing the Israeli national anthem despite local officials’ refusal to play it at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, where local judo authorities banned all Israeli symbols, October 26, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)
Israel’s Tal Flicker is the current world No. 1 in judo’s U66 kg division, an established star who has won several world championship events this year.
On Thursday, Flicker, 25, added to his gold collection, defeating Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan in the Grand Slam Abu Dhabi. Accordingly, he took his place on the winner’s podium, gratefully accepted his gold medal, and stood straight for the playing of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
Except that, as Flicker knew would be the case, the organizers of this world tournament in the United Arab Emirates refused to play “Hatikvah.” Instead, Flicker and the rest of those in the hall and watching elsewhere heard the anthem of the International Judo Federation. Neither was the Israeli flag raised in pride of place. Rather, again, it was the IJF symbol that the organizers installed. (Likewise, there was no Israeli flag displayed for bronze medalists Gili Cohen, shortly before Flicker’s win on Thursday, and Tohar Butbul, on Friday.
IJF Code of Ethics (clause 2): ‘There shall be no discrimination between the participants on the basis of race, gender, ethnic origin, religion… or other grounds’
Flicker handled the snub with considerable aplomb. Shutting out what he would later describe as the “background noise” of the IJF anthem, he sung his own “Hatikvah.”
Speaking to Israeli TV from his hotel room afterwards, he said he’d made up his mind from the start that he’d sing “Hatikvah,” and dismissed the organizing nation’s insult. “The whole world knows that we’re from Israel, knows who we represent,” he said. “The fact that they hid our flag, it’s just a…” He paused, searching for the word. “It’s just a patch on our flag,” he said.
A day later, Tohar Butbul handled an Arab rival’s contempt with similar equanimity. Evidently undeterred that his defeated UAE opponent Rashad Almashjari refused to shake his proffered hand, Butbul, 23, progressed on through the tournament to wind up with the bronze in his category by defeating Italy’s Olympic champion Fabio Basile.
Adding insult to insult, the IJF has been partially complicit in this anti-Israeli discrimination. Its own website’s reporting on Flicker’s gold medal success described him (and still does in this article) as representing not Israel but, risibly, the IJF. “The IJF are in second place with one gold and one bronze medal,” it reported, ridiculously, on Thursday night. (By Friday evening, its medals table for the tournament was at least accurately showing Israel’s gold and two bronzes to have indeed been won by “Israel.”
Some might argue that Israel should not have participated in a tournament whose UAE hosts messed the team around regarding visas and informed the sport’s international administration in advance that Israelis would only be tolerated if they exhibited no sign whatsoever of being Israeli. But the Israeli thinking was that its excellent judokas emphatically should participate, and that they would hopefully strike a contrast, through sporting excellence and good grace, to the rudeness of the UAE organizers. And so it has proved.
But that emphatically should not be the end of the matter. When the UAE Judo Federation made plain ahead of the tournament that the Israeli team would not be allowed to compete under the Israeli flag, the IJF wrote to the hosts to demand that “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”
The UAE Judo Federation paid it absolutely no heed. Why would it? It had imposed the same discrimination against Israel’s judokas two years ago; Israel won two bronze medals in the 2015 tournament — which meant far fewer headlines than the unignorable gold-medal success of Tal Flicker.
The very word ‘judo’ means ‘gentle way’
Rather than Israelis facing the dilemma of whether to compete as unwanted intruders in events such as this, it now falls to the IJF to ensure that there is no discrimination at future tournaments, and that hosts who cannot abide by its requirement that all delegations be treated “absolutely equally” not be permitted to hold events. (Incidentally, “Palestine,” as an International Olympic Committee member, is one of the IJF’s 198 “member countries.” We can all argue long and hard over the differences or similarities, but if Israel wanted to host an IJF event, it would be required to treat Palestinian participants equally.)
A martial art with a 135-year history, judo is governed by etiquette designed to underline the importance of respect. The very word “judo” means “gentle way.” There should be no place in the sport for those who do not embrace its spirit.
As the IJF’s own Code of Ethics (clause 2) states unequivocally, “There shall be no discrimination between the participants on the basis of race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, philosophical or political opinion, marital status or other grounds.”
The UAE trampled all over those principles this week. It should not permitted to do so again.
An Israeli judoka won a gold medal on Thursday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament, but had to sing his own private “Hatikvah” because the organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem.
He also had to celebrate his victory under the International Judo Federation’s flag, because the emirate banned the display of Israeli symbols.
On the women’s side, Gili Cohen won bronze in the under-52 kilograms (114 pounds) class. The Israeli flag was not flown on her behalf either.
The entire Israeli team was required to compete without any Israeli identifying symbols, and had been told before the tournament that there would be no acknowledgement of their home country — a discriminatory policy imposed solely on the Israeli competitors.
Flicker said later that he made up his mind to sing his own “Hatikvah” on the podium from “the moment that I won the gold.”
“Israel is my country, and I’m proud to be Israeli,” he said, speaking to Channel 2 news from his hotel room. “The anthem that they played of the world federation was just background noise,” he said. “I was singing ‘Hatikvah’ from my heart.
“I’m proud of my country,” he said again. “The whole world knows that we’re from Israel, knows who we represent. The fact that they hid our flag, it’s just a patch on our flag.”
Asked whether he’d had reservations about competing in a tournament that would not recognize him and his colleagues as Israelis, Flicker said he had focused solely on winning a medal. Now that he’d done so, “I’m extremely happy.”
Ahead of the tournament on Monday, Flicker wrote on Facebook that even without the flag, “everyone in the world knows where we are from and what country we represent.”
“I am the most proud in the world to be Israeli,” he added.
The Israeli contestants were barred from wearing Israeli symbols on their uniforms at the tournament and were listed as representing the International Judo Federation.
Israeli Judoka Gili Cohen presented with her bronze medal at #JudoAbuDhabi2017 but had to compete under @intjudofed flag because hosts wouldn’t allow any mention of the Jewish state! Mazeltov Gili.@Ostrov_A
The ban on Israeli symbols came despite the IJF’s demand before the tournament that the UAE treat Israeli athletes equally.
A letter from the IJF to the president of the UAE Judo Federation said “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”
It highlighted the body’s core ideals that “every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind.”
The letter was sent to the World Jewish Congress, which represents over 100 Jewish communities, and had asked the IJF to intervene and “protect the rights of the Israeli national judo team and keep the spirit of sport free of political discrimination.”
There was no comment Wednesday from the UAE, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
Muslim and Arab states or athletes often boycott Israeli competitors. An Egyptian judoka refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent at the Rio Olympics last year. Tunisia’s tennis federation ordered the country’s top player to withdraw from a match against an Israeli opponent at a tournament in 2013.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said it was of “utmost importance” that her country’s athletes display the flag and sing the national anthem at international competitions. She said boycotting the competition would only “play into the hands of those refusing to recognize our existence,” and would hinder Israel’s future sporting achievements.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz explained one “lie” about the Christian faith that Satan wants people to believe while sharing his faith at a live event held at Eastern University in Pennsylvania last week.The 24-year-old Wentz, who is in his second season with the Eagles after a successful collegiate career at North Dakota State University, appeared at a special live event last Wednesday hosted by “Faith on The Field” radio show broadcasted on Philadelphia’s 610 AM. Although the event was held outside in the rain, over 2,000 people attended the free event.Wentz, along with Eagles tight end Trey Burton and offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, was interviewed by the show’s host, Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi, and his co-hosts.
Considering that Wentz grew up as a Lutheran but is now a non-denominational Christian, he was asked during the show, which will air on the radio Monday, to explain where he currently is in his faith.
Wentz went on to talk about the lie that a lot of Christians believe and one that he admitted falling into the trap of while growing up.
“I think talking specifically about that and being saved by works is obviously a lie, but it’s a lie that a lot of people believe. It’s a lie just in our culture. I know for me as a man, even when I was a kid, with sports and anything I did, I was going to work my tail off to earn what I got. That’s how I was wired, that’s how the world kind of instills this value, so to speak, is work, work, work, and earn it,” he said.
“And that’s kind of what I thought. I’d pray, I’d go to church, I’d do this and that, and I’m like that’s great, I’m a good person, I did the right and so I’m going to be saved naturally. That’s what I thought,” he added. “That’s the lie that the devil wants you to believe.”
Wentz also shared the Bible verse that really changed his perspective of salvation.
“Ephesians 2:8-10 — ‘For it is by Grace that you have been saved through faith — and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do go works which God prepared in advance for us to do,'” he recited. “So, when I learned about this grace and learned about how my view of Christianity was really just flipped on it’s head, because you see, Christianity is the only religion in the world that you can’t earn Heaven, you can’t earn an afterlife, you can’t earn reincarnation or whatever it is that other people believe.”
“Christianity says it’s done; Jesus already did it. He took it all for you and this is what Paul is saying here in Ephesians,” Wentz continued. “He’s saying it’s by grace alone you’ve been saved, not by works so that no one can boast. I mean, he can’t lay it out much clearer. Then he says, ‘But we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.’ See we’re not saved by our actions but our actions come out of our faith.”
According to Wentz, the notion that people are saved through works and not a relationship with Christ is a “misconception that a lot of people have.”
“I think it’s a daily thing. I know for me, we get caught up in doing good, doing good, doing good. That it’s a daily thing for me to just remind myself like without Jesus in it, I can’t do it,” he added. “I can’t earn my way to Heaven and nobody can. So, I really challenge every one of us to just [have] daily kind of have that perspective because it’s so easy to get caught up in doing good and thinking that I’m good enough, but without Jesus, none of us are.'”
Wentz has not been afraid to share his faith on Christ on social media and with others. In the interview, Wentz was asked to explain how he handles criticism he faces for expressing his faith publicly.
“Jesus was murdered on a cross. I mean it doesn’t get much worse than that. In that day and age, it doesn’t get anymore humiliating and embarrassing than that. And so, I’m like, if Jesus, who is our ultimate example, endured that, then I can endure a couple tweets, I can endure a little riff raff here and there,” Wentz said. “I can keep that out and stay true to His Word because at the end of the day, I can stay true to that, and Jesus is ultimately, the example.”
“If you love something enough, you’re going to talk about it — if you love your wife, if you love your job, if you love whatever it is that you’re passionate about, you’re going to talk about it,” he added. “If you love Jesus, you should talk about it. You should tell the world about Him, you should share that truth. And so, there’s going to be persecution, there’s going to be haters, you have to just stay true to Him and ultimately that’s what it’s all about.”
Wentz founded the AO1 Foundation earlier this year, which exists to “demonstrate the love of God by providing opportunities and support for the less fortunate and those in need.”
The organization not only cares for the poor, but also provides unique opportunities for the physically challenged and also provides service dogs to youth in Philadelphia.
“It’s a cool platform and opportunity to just really make a difference overseas, back home in the Midwest, and then also in the Philadelphia area,” Wentz said during the interview. “I encourage you to go check that out and see if God puts it on your heart to make a difference in that area.”
Earlier this year, Wentz, along with Buffalo Bills receiver Jordan Matthews, went on a missions trip to Haiti.
“We only went for three days, and you know everyone always goes on these mission’s trips and [is like] ‘I’m going to go change the culture and go make a difference there.’ It’s an incredible thing and an incredible opportunity, but what really happens is it changes you. It changes your heart, it changes your life, it changes your perspective in a big way,” Wentz emphasized. “This was my first mission trip, my first eye opening event like this in my life.”
By Duarte Mendoca, Livia Borghese and Richard A. Greene, CNN
Updated 12:19 PM ET, Sun August 27, 2017
A view of the Zillertal Valley in the Austrian Alps, near an area where five climbers were killed.
Five climbers were killed after falling onto a glacier in the Austrian Alps
Two others were killed in Italy climbing in a group roped together
Rome (CNN) Seven climbers fell to their deaths in two separate incidents in the Alps on Sunday, officials said.
Five of the climbers died in the Austrian Alps, Zell am See provincial government chief Martin Reichholf told CNN. Two others were killed as they climbed in a group roped together in the Italian Alps, according to an emergency center there.
Reichholf said there were indications that the climbers were German citizens, adding that details were still emerging.
The climbers in Austria fell around 300 meters (1,000 feet) onto a glacier near the town of Krimml, according to Dr. Egbert Ritter, a trauma surgeon at the AUVA hospital in Salzburg.
A sixth climber — a 60-year-old man — is in intensive care at the hospital, but his injuries are not life-threatening, Ritter said. Six helicopters were at the scene of the accident, he told CNN.
The climbers fell at around 10 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) about 1.5 kilometers south of a mountain cabin called the Zittauer Hutte at an altitude of around 3,000 meters, he said.
Group roped together
In Italy, a man and woman who appear to be in their mid-30s were killed as they climbed the Adamello glacier in the the Trentino Alto Adige region, according to the emergency rescue center in the town of Trento.
They were part of a group of nine Italians from the city of Brescia. The climbers were connected by three ropes. They fell when those on the lowest rope slipped on the glacier, dragging down others higher up the slope, according to the rescue center.
A further two climbers were seriously injured, including a 14-year-old boy who is being treated in Trento hospital.
Three helicopters were used to rescue the group, officials said.
CNN’s Angela Dewan wrote from London.
Like this post? Spread the word and share it on social media.
Iran condemns its soccer players for match with Israeli team
By Associated PressAugust 4 at 10:17 AM
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s soccer federation condemned two Iranians who play for a Greek team on Friday for participating in a match against an Israeli team, Iranian media reported.The federation “strongly condemns” the participation of Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi in a match for Greece’s Panionios against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv a day earlier in Greece, it said in a statement reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.
On its Farsi-language Twitter account, Israel’s foreign ministry praised the players for ignoring what is considered a taboo in Iran by playing against the Israelis. Maccabi won the UEFA Europa League match 1-0.
Israel and Iran are bitter adversaries and traditionally, Iranian athletes refrain from playing Israelis. Iran’s government usually rewards such behavior.
The federation said it is reviewing the case and will make a final decision after speaking with both players who in the past have also played for the national soccer team. Fars reported that the two may now be banned from playing on that team again.
The story must be told.
Your subscription supports journalism that matters.
At a previous match against Maccabi in Tel Aviv, both refused to play.
The last competition between Iranian and Israeli sportsmen on the international level dates back to a wrestling match in 1983 in Kiev, Ukraine. From time to time, Iranian players who play for foreign teams have played Israeli teams.
In February, a teenage Iranian chess player angered authorities when he played, as an individual, against an Israeli competitor in the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.
Iran does not recognize Israel, and supports anti-Israeli militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.
Like this post? Spread the word and share it on social media.
Authorities say a black bear killed a 16-year-old runner while he was competing in a race near Anchorage, Alaska, on Sunday.
Anchorage television station KTUU reports that the teenager, whose identity has not been released, was a participant in the juniors division of the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb three-mile race between Anchorage and Girdwood.
Race director Brad Precosky said the runner had apparently made it to the halfway-point turnaround for juniors on steep Bird Ridge trail and was on his way down when he texted a family member that he was being chased by a bear.
Officials from a number of agencies responded up the mountain to locate the boy, whose body was found about a mile up the path, at about 1,500 vertical feet.
“This is the worst thing that could happen,” Precosky said.
Alaska State Troopers released a statement Sunday saying the boy’s remains were transported from the scene and his next of kin was notified.
A park ranger shot the 250-pound bear in the face, but it ran away.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Like this post? Spread the word and share it on social media.
Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Amir shone as Pakistan defied the odds to overwhelm arch-rivals India by 180 runs and pull off a major upset in the Champions Trophy final at The Oval on Sunday.
Fakhar capitalised on a lucky escape to strike a superb 114 and lift Pakistan to a commanding total of 338 for four and fast bowler Amir ripped out India’s top three batsmen before the defending champions subsided to 158 all out.
Pakistan had come into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team and lost heavily to India in their opening group match but they beat South Africa and Sri Lanka to make the semi-finals where they knocked out hosts England.
After India had won the toss, Fakhar, on three, was caught by wicketkeeper Mahehdra Singh Dhoni off a Jasprit Bumrah no-ball and the 27-year-old left-hander took full advantage to make his first international century.
He shared a fluent century opening partnership with Azhar Ali (59), the pair unleashing a barrage of crisp attacking strokes all around a sun-kissed ground.
Azhar also continued his fine form, reaching fifty off 61 balls before he was run out following a mix-up with his partner.
Fakhar lofted Ravindra Jadeja over long-on for six and got to three figures by sweeping Ravichandran Ashwin to the boundary.
He celebrated with an extravagant twirl of his bat and kissed the turf as the Pakistan supporters sensed an unlikely win.
Fakhar hit 12 fours and three sixes before skying a catch off Hardik Pandya but Pakistan had the perfect platform to make the highest total in a Champions Trophy final.
Babar Azam chipped in with a solid 46 and Mohammad Hafeez struck three sixes in a punchy unbeaten 57 that left India needing to produce the highest successful run chase in the tournament’s history to lift the trophy for the third time.
Within three overs, however, their reply was in tatters as Amir produced a devastating spell of bowling.
He trapped Rohit Sharma lbw for nought with a swinging delivery and removed India talisman Virat Kohli with another fine ball which the captain could only edge to point for five.
Kohli, the world’s top-ranked one-day batsman, had been dropped off the previous delivery in the slips and the India fans looked shell-shocked as he trudged off.
Their hopes now rested largely on the shoulders of Shikhar Dhawan who had been in fine form in the tournament but he made only 21 before nicking the inspired Amir to wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed.
Spinner Shadab Khan snared Yuvraj Singh lbw for 22 and Dhoni, India’s former captain who has saved the team on many occasions, pulled Hasan Ali to Imad Wasim at deep square leg to depart for four.
Shadab picked up his second wicket when Kedar Jadhav, on nine, gave Sarfraz a simple catch and India appeared to be crumbling meekly at 72 for six.
Pandya, however, briefly raised their spirits with a quickfire 76, reaching his fifty with three successive sixes off Shadab and hitting six maximums in all before he was run out.
Jadeja nicked Junaid Khan to slip for 15, Hasan had Ashwin caught by Sarfraz and Hasan forced Bumrah to lob another catch to the wicketkeeper, who pouched it gleefully to complete Pakistan’s first Champions Trophy win with 19.3 overs to spare.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
Like this post? Spread the word and share it on social media.
Spain has attracted arguably the three brightest lights of world football, with Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Neymar all plying their skills in La Liga.
Over the past year, football fans have become used to seeing the trio caught up in accusations of tax fraud and other financial crimes by the Spanish courts.
And they are not the only players in the crosshairs of the Spanish judiciary. In 2016, Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Barcelona team-mate, Javier Mascherano, received a one-year suspended prison sentence for tax fraud.
Three players, three trials
Lionel Messi and father Jorge were last year convicted of defrauding the Spanish state of €4.1m (£3.6m; $4.6m) in unpaid taxes on the striker’s image rights, controlled by offshore companies in Belize and Uruguay.
The pair were both handed 21-month jail terms in a ruling recently confirmed by Spain’s supreme court.
Now the original Barcelona trial court must decide whether the sentences should be suspended in accordance with Spanish custom for first-time offenders whose prison terms do not exceed two years.
Prosecutors have asked for a two-year sentence and a €10m fine for Neymar, who was cleared of fraud but ordered to stand trial over alleged corruption in his 2013 move from Brazilian club Santos to Barcelona.
Now Ronaldo has become the third and final member of the elite La Liga trio to face criminal accusations, after prosecutors announced they were pursuing the 32-year-old former Manchester United man on four counts of tax fraud.
A source close to Ronaldo told the BBC that “he’s very sad and really upset” about the allegations. “He doesn’t want to stay in Spain. At this moment, he wants to leave,” the source said.
Soon after David Beckham joined Real Madrid in 2003, he was able to enjoy a new tax-exemption scheme aimed at attracting foreign talent to Spain across all sectors. That scheme became known as the Beckham Law, when he became one of the first players to sign up to a six-year-long tax ceiling of 24%, roughly half what Spaniards paid on six-figure-plus incomes.
Spain was in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom, a perfect playground for “galacticos” of the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and the emergence of Barcelona prodigy Lionel Messi.
But in 2010 the Beckham Law was scrapped for salaries of more than €600,000, and since then tax inspectors have begun to wise up to the use of complex financial operations using offshore shell companies to get around tax laws.
“The line between avoidance and evasion is very fine in these cases. In the past few years Spain’s tax agency has intensified its control over footballers and their companies, checking to see if they are mere fronts or whether they are really active economically,” explains Carlos Cruzado, president of tax inspectors’ union Gestha.
Case against big three
Neymar is the odd one out. His case involves alleged wrongdoing towards a contractual party regarding his transfer fee, but the forward has been found guilty in his native Brazil for tax fraud on money earned while playing for Santos.
La Liga rich list
Who earned what?
Cristiano Ronaldo: $58m salary, $35m endorsements
$80m Lionel Messi: $53m salary, $27m endorsements
$37m Neymar: $15m salary, $22m endorsements
The Messi and Ronaldo cases are similar. Both are accused of avoiding tax on sale of image rights by using offshore companies. However, the Portuguese was registered as a non-resident taxpayer under the Beckham Law, while the Argentine has spent his entire adult life registered in Spain.
Prosecutors accuse the Real Madrid star of evading tax of €14.7m between 2011 and 2014 via an alleged shell company called Tollin Associates, registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Spanish investigators say the company, owned by Ronaldo, is a “screen” and has no economic activity apart from having bought and then ceded the player’s image rights to a firm based in Ireland that “genuinely manages [his] rights sales”.
Prosecutors also claim that money earned from image rights was incorrectly described as capital gains, to benefit from a lower tax rate.
What is their defence?
Lionel Messi was informed by the judge in his case it was no defence to plead ignorance and argue that his father was the only person who knew how his money was being managed.
Neymar has denied any wrongdoing and told the court investigating his case that his father and associates dealt with off-field business matters.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s representatives and legal team say the only dispute can be about quantity and that there has been no intention to commit fraud. “There is no tax evasion scheme… There has never been any hiding nor any intention to hide anything,” they say.
They argue he has paid tax to the Spanish treasury on 20% of his total image rights when, in fact, more than 90% of these are generated outside Spain as he is such a global name.
“The tax agency clearly thinks that if he is being paid for wearing certain boots, shirts or caps in Spain, then he cannot claim this money is being earned abroad,” explains Mr Cruzado.
Will any of them go to jail?
Neymar and Lionel Messi look set to be spared prison due to Spain’s unwritten two-year-sentence rule, even if Neymar is eventually found guilty.
Cristiano Ronaldo may be a different matter. Three of the four accusations of tax fraud are considered by prosecutors to be “aggravated”, so they carry a minimum sentence of two years each. Four guilty verdicts and he could face as many as seven years.
However, an investigating judge needs to ratify the prosecutors’ accusations, and that could take many months or even years.
Even if the investigating magistrate does take up the case, the Portuguese will have several options and a guilty verdict would not necessarily mean jail.
He could admit guilt, pay taxes and fines in advance and reduce any eventual jail term to a half or quarter of the statutory minimum. That way he would slip under the standard two-year bar for first-time offenders and see his sentence suspended.