Ronaldo's Visit Creates Bedlam, So He Exits Stage Left

The intentions - certainly Ronaldo's, and presumably those of the Peres Center for Peace - were good ones.

The intentions - certainly Ronaldo's, and presumably those of the Peres Center for Peace - were good ones. It's almost impossible to think of a better marketing tool than a living legend. It worked just great with Jose Mourinho; it was supposed to have worked even better with Ronaldo - in theory, that is.

The police were there three hours in advance; security guards from the Prime Minister's Office were on hand (for Shimon Peres' benefit); the local and foreign media were out in full force; and hundreds of Ronaldo fans, wearing Brazil or Real Madrid shirts, were on hand too.

And let's not forget the 800 or so Jewish and Arab children from the Peres Center's Twinned Soccer Schools, who were playing on the Herzliya field and waiting for a glimpse of one of the best strikers in soccer history.

And then he arrived - surrounded by bodyguards, escorts, an interpreter, various and sundry, and Peres.

It all began with a photo op with the children, and talk of peace to the cameras.

"I hope there will be peace, and I want to do something for peace in the region and the world," said the Brazilian star.

"Ronaldo is a children's hero and a man of peace," Peres responded.

But the push quickly intensified, and the security personnel began to lose their cool. A photographer or two were brutally pushed aside; the medal-presentation for the children fell by the wayside; and children and adults alike were only interested in one thing - getting closer to the star.

The ceremony was called off, as was the game that was supposed to have taken place. Even the ball-juggling show for the cameras was dropped, and Ronaldo was smuggled out of a side entrance to the stadium. The Brazilian icon appeared shocked and embarrassed. Even Peres seemed somewhat bewildered.

The visit to Ramallah earlier in the day was a lot more orderly, members of the foreign press commented, groaning in consternation on learning that the planned news conference had also been canceled.

Ronaldo's entourage had had enough - and justifiably so. There's a limit to what one of the best players of this generation have to go through. An hour of Israeli mayhem sufficed.

Indeed, the scene earlier in the day in Ramallah was very different, with Ronaldo receiving a warm welcome in the city, during a goodwill visit that left even Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia grinning like an excited schoolboy.

"I am happy to see you joyful and optimistic, and I hope the peace process will proceed," Ronaldo told an ecstatic crowd during a stop at the Palestinian palace of culture, where 1,500 people crammed into a hall built to hold half that number.

Ronaldo said his visit was part of his campaign against poverty around the world. "I hope that the sports movement will be revived in Palestine, and I hope to see a Palestinian soccer team when there will be peace," he told a news conference.

Ronaldo, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program, visited a UN youth center, played soccer with giggling Palestinian youths, and met with local dignitaries, including Qureia, in whose office the Brazilian star autographed soccer balls as the prime minister looked on.

"It is an unforgettable moment for me, and an unforgettable moment for Palestine to have someone like Ronaldo visiting here," said Amani Mahfouth, 20, who triumphantly waved her fist in the air after shaking Ronaldo's hand.

She said the presence of Ronaldo was far more exciting than the growing list of world leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had recently visited the city.

"There are a lot of political guests, but normal people are not interested in them," she said. "We need to be normal... to have soccer players, artists, singers. Those kinds of people do not visit Palestine. We want them."