“Israeli football fans, for me, are the most hated. I cannot tolerate them. I won’t exchange my shirts with assassins.”
That was what Iran’s state TV quoted Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese soccer star, as saying during a report it aired on June 15.
Except Ronaldo did not make those comments.
State TV used footage from a 2016 video that Ronaldo recorded for Save The Children, the London-based humanitarian organization. But Ronaldo’s remarks were fabricated in the dubbed version aired by the Iranian broadcaster.
In the original English-language video, Ronaldo draws attention to the plight of Syrian children during that country’s brutal civil war.
“This is for the children of Syria,” Ronaldo says in the video. “We know that you have been suffering a lot. I am a very famous player. But you are the true heroes. Don’t lose your hope. The world is with you. We care about you. I am with you.”
Iran state TV’s report also falsely quoted Ronaldo as employing the official terminology that Tehran uses to refer to Israel.
“If I say that I like the Quds occupying regime just one time, FIFA (world football’s governing body) will select me as the player of the year,” Ronaldo was dubbed as saying in the report. Al-Quds is the name of Palestine in Arabic.
The state TV report also included what it claimed was footage of Ronaldo refusing to swap shirts with an Israeli soccer player following a match on June 9. But the footage used was from 2016. Additionally, the player was Aron Gunnarsson, the captain of Iceland.
The report also included an image of Ronaldo holding a photoshopped sign that said, “All with Palestine.” The original image shows Ronaldo holding a sign that reads, “All with Lorca,” referring to the 2011 earthquake near the Spanish town of Lorca that killed nine people.
The state TV report has triggered mockery and criticism, with Iranians accusing the authorities of insulting their intelligence.
“They are practically lying to us with our own money,” cartoonist Payam Pourfallah said on Instagram, where he posted the state TV report alongside Ronaldo’s 2016 video in support of Syrian children.
“Are we going to fight Israel with this stupidity,” journalist Behrooz Azizi said on Twitterin a reference to Iran’s animosity with Tel Aviv.
State TV’s broadcast was also slammed by some Iranian media outlets, with the reformist Sharq daily accusing it of airing a “ridiculous” report that was “full of lies.”
Iran’s state TV has a record of strict censorship and the airing of biased and defamatory reports and disinformation. State TV also routinely airs confessions by dissidents and others that are believed to have been extracted under duress.
The report was aired as tensions soar between Iran and Israel, its regional foe. Tehran blamed Tel Aviv for the killing of Hassan Sayad Khodaei, a colonel in Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the armed forces, outside his home in Tehran on May 22.
Khodaei’s death is part of a series of recent incidents inside Iran, including assassinations and sabotage and cyberattacks, some of which Tehran has blamed on Israel. Tel Aviv is believed to have been behind the assassinations of at least five Iranian nuclear scientists in the past decade.
Tehran has refused to officially recognize the Jewish state, while being vocal in its support for the Palestinian cause and allegedly backing armed groups fighting Israel, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hizballah in Lebanon.
The policy has faced criticism inside Iran, including by anti-establishment protesters.
“Leave Palestine. Think about us instead” and, “No to Gaza. Not to Lebanon. May my life be sacrificed for Iran” have been among the chants heard at anti-government rallies in recent years.