03.01.2022 12:28 h

Ronaldo statue kicks up a fuss in India's Goa

A statue of Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo has caused a stir in the southern Indian state of Goa, with locals accusing officials of insensitivity for honouring a sports star from the region's former colonial power.

Protesters with black flags gathered at the site after the statue was unveiled this week in the town of Calangute.

They expressed anger that authorities had shunned local sports stars and chosen a player from Portugal, which administered Goa as a colony until it was annexed by India in 1961.

Micky Fernandes, a former Indian international player who is from Goa, said the choice was "hurtful" and a "hangover" from Portuguese rule.

"Ronaldo is the best player in the world but still we should have a statue of a football player from Goa," Fernandes told AFP.

Michael Lobo, a local minister with India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, told AFP the aim was to inspire young people to excel not just inside the country but internationally.

"All the boys and girls who want to make football a career will get inspired by people like Cristiano Ronaldo," Lobo said.

"If you pursue your dream and you're passionate about it then you can reach a higher goal. This is what we have written on the plaque."

Most of present-day India gained independence in 1947.

But Portugal's then dictatorship retained Goa until Indian military forces invaded in 1961 and took control of the territory in a two-day operation.

Portugal's centuries-long influence remains visible in local architecture, particularly the many churches. Many people in Goa have Portuguese-origin surnames.

Unlike in most of India, many Goans prefer football to cricket -- and many support Portugal in international tournaments such as the World Cup.

"I follow (Portugal) too but when we have our own players we cannot put up a statue of someone from outside," Fernandes said.

It is not the first time a statue of Ronaldo, 36, has caused an upset.

A grinning bust unveiled at Madeira airport in Portugal in 2017 was widely ridiculed as looking little like its subject.