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Brazil's Star Soccer Player Neymar Denies Rape Allegation


We turn now to Brazil and to a case involving one of the world's most celebrated sports stars, the soccer player so big he is usually called just by one name - Neymar. A 26-year-old woman is accusing Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. of raping her in Paris last month. Neymar denies it. The case has been dominating the headlines in Brazil and beyond for days. NPR's Philip Reeves is following all this. He joins us now from Rio de Janeiro. And I want to warn people that there may be some graphic details to come. Hey there, Phil.


KELLY: So when I said this is dominating the headlines, how much impact is this case having there?

REEVES: Oh, it's huge. I mean, it's impossible to overstate how important a player Neymar is. You know, he's one of the world's top soccer stars. And when his club, Paris Saint-Germain, bought him from Barcelona a couple of years back, they paid more than $260 million for him, a world record. Until very recently, he was captain of Brazil's fated national side. He's a striker who wears the coveted number 10 shirt. He's worth a fortune in commercial sponsorship. And you'd be very hard pushed to find someone in this soccer-mad country who hasn't heard of him.

KELLY: What are the specific allegations being made against him?

REEVES: Well, these are being made by a woman called Najila Trindade. She's a model, aged 26. She's from Brazil. We know her identity because she decided to appear on TV here, outlining these allegations.

She says she met Neymar on Instagram. He invited her to Paris, where he lives, and paid her airfare. They met in a five-star hotel there in the middle of last month. She says she was prepared for consensual sex and was in fact expecting that to happen. But she alleges, though, that Neymar became aggressive after she told him she wouldn't have unprotected sex with him. She alleges he hit her. She repeatedly asked him to stop, she says. He carried on and raped her, she says.

Neymar has posted a video online in which he wholly denies this and alleges that he is the victim of attempted extortion.

KELLY: And what is the reaction to this in Brazil? You said it's a huge deal, hard to overstate. But how are people lining up in terms of standing by or not standing by Neymar?

REEVES: Well, you know, this case has arisen at a time when the treatment of women and respect for women's rights is a particularly contentious issue here following last year's election of the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who has a record of denigrating women. And although the facts of this case, you know, are really still far from clear, Bolsonaro has already spoken out in support of Neymar, saying that the player's enduring a difficult moment and that he believes in him. This has produced an angry reaction from women's groups, who accuse Bolsonaro of normalizing violence against women in a country where this is already a huge problem.

KELLY: What about Neymar's sponsors? He's got all kinds of contracts. Are his sponsors fleeing in droves?

REEVES: Well, he has some very big international sponsors - I mean MasterCard, Nike and many others. His marketing company has issued a statement saying that up until now, the evidence conclusively shows that Neymar's the victim of what it calls a malicious criminal complaint. And it also says, though, that some of the planned advertising campaigns he's involved in are on hold for now, I think, until this issue is resolved.

KELLY: And how might it be resolved? Just briefly, what happens next?

REEVES: Well, last week, Trindade went to a police station in the Brazilian city of Sao Paolo to testify. That's where she filed her original complaint. She emerged six hours later being carried, apparently exhausted, in the arms of a lawyer. Neymar's expected to go along to testify before the end of this week. That's sure to be a dramatic moment. It's fair to say that, you know, this case is going to go on generating big headlines, not least because of the way both sides are using the public domain to fight their corner.

KELLY: Thank you, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Philip Reeves in Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.