Opinion: Cristiano Ronaldo = 520 Million School Meals

Cristiano Ronaldo playing for his country, Portugal, back in 2006.

(Copyright: AFP DDP/Juergen Schwarz)

Cristiano Ronaldo, football's world player of the year in 2008, is about to leave British club Manchester United for Spain's Real Madrid, for a record fee of US$130 million. WFP's Greg Barrow reflects on what that figure means in hunger terms.

ROME -- 130 million US dollars is a chunk of cash. We could use it right now to feed 8.6 million hungry mouths in Ethiopia through to the end of the year. These are people whose crops have withered due to drought and who can't buy the food they want at the local markets where it still costs too much.

We really need US$130 million right now in Pakistan where it would cover a gaping hole in our budget and give us the cash we need to feed more than two million people who've had to abandon their homes and flee fighting in the Swat region.

Kaka and Fill the Cup

In 2008, FIFA World Soccer Player of the Year Kaka helped launch WFP's  "Fill the Cup" campaign which aims to raise funds for the millions of children who go to school hungry every day.

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US$130 million is a handy bit of loose change. If you take our operations in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Guatemala, Liberia and Swaziland, it’s enough to fund them all for a full year – and leave some to spare.

That’s value for money when you consider what it can buy in terms of free school lunches for hungry children, and support for families buckling under the strain of feeding hungry mouths when food prices are high and jobs are hard to come by.

US$130 million can also buy you arguably the best footballer in the world. See YouTube video

Please don't get me wrong.  I admire Cristiano Ronaldo.  He is a footballer who combines grace with almost balletic athleticism, and sheer power on the football pitch.  Anyone who can place a ball on the ground in a Champions League game and swerve it from almost 40 metres past a wall of ten players and a goalie, deserves some credit.  His fans worship him.

But US$130 million?

Good luck to Manchester United who have just sold Ronaldo for this record-breaking transfer fee to the giants of European football, Real Madrid.

It’s money that will further grease the financial wheels of the world’s most beautiful game.  Sadly it won’t be coming our way.

But the good news for the World Food Programme, is that Ronaldo will play in a team alongside our very own hunger ambassador, Kaka, who last week made the move from AC Milan to Real for the relatively modest sum of US$90 million.

There’s real potential for the new “Galacticos” at Real to get together and say something meaningful about the needs of the one billion hungry people around the world.

Kaka has shown already how fame and fortune provide a great platform for raising awareness about hunger and how the World Food Programme can address the growing needs.

Among the ranks of the hungry there are many millions of young boys who dream one day of following in the golden footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. From dusty streets in African villages, to alleyways in the slums of Haiti, football is seen as a passport out of misery.  Those looking for escape will be watching closely.