Defamation in Portugal

By: Drew Hargrove


I’m taking a straw poll: How ecstatic would you be if a company created a statue in your honor? Would you feel drunk with fame or undoubtedly humbled? I know I, for one, would probably wonder why a company would want my scowling face in their lobby. However, for someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, the opposite might hold true. One of the greatest soccer players in the world perhaps deserves to have an airport named after him, with his statue shining bright in the front of the building.

Next poll question: How would you feel if the statue that the company created looked nothing like you? Embarrassed? Enraged? Again, if it were me, I might take issue with a hack job, but then again, I would be happy with anything dedicated in my honor. 

The same might not be said for Cristiano Ronaldo. On Wednesday, March 29, 2017, the local airport of Ronaldo’s native Madeira Islands, while in the process of being renamed to “Aeroporto Cristiano Ronaldo” unveiled a statue of the soccer star.[1] In short, the statue looks nothing like the famed Ronaldo:

“It squashes his eyes close together, and the cheeky raised-eyebrow smile more resembles a leer. The face is also unusually chubby, in contrast to Ronaldo’s chiseled looks.”[2]

            This begs two questions. The first we never get an answer to: Does Ronaldo want to sue the airport? Putting myself in his shoes, my answer might be yes. I would be upset with the sculptor (Madeira native Emanuel Santos) for missing the mark entirely, and I most certainly would be mad at the airport for accepting this piece as sufficient. Reportedly, it took the sculptor 15 days to create the statue, with officials, after checking the project at the half-way point, giving the “go-ahead” to finish the project.[3] As for Ronaldo, we may never know.

            The second question, however, is much more fun: CAN Ronaldo sue the airport? And if so, what law gives him a cause of action?



Probably the most intriguing claim Ronaldo could make is a defamation claim against the airport. Some countries differentiate between slander (spoken defamation) and libel (defamation in other media forms). Article 26 of the Portuguese Constitution promulgates the following:

Everyone shall possess the right to a personal identity, to the development of their personality, to civil capacity, to citizenship, to a good name and reputation, to their likeness, to speak out, to protect the privacy of their personal and family life, and to legal protection against any form of discrimination.[4]

In addition to these constitutional rights, Portugal allows for recovery of damages in the Portugal Civil Code: “In Portugal, damages are awarded to compensate the actual loss suffered. The purpose is to ensure the injured party’s return to the position he occupied before he was affected by a wrongful conduct . . . There are no established maximum limits to damages.”[5] In addition, “[d]amages are only allowed when there has been a real loss or injury.”[6] Under Article 26 of the Constitution and Article 483 of the Portugal Civil Code, there may be room for a constitutional arguments, which can be parsed into two prongs: 1) Does the statue damage Ronaldo’s reputation or likeness, and 2) is there actual damage?

For the first question, Ronaldo would argue that this abomination of a statue has damages his constitutional right to reputation or likeness. This statue was said to be a “tribute” to Ronaldo, and the airport will now have his name plastered all over its facilities. The statute clearly looks nothing like Ronaldo. As noted, there are several features that are dissimilar from Ronaldo’s actual face. One could reasonably conclude that this statue looks nothing like Ronaldo; therefore, because this statue was designed to represent Ronaldo, this statue causes damage to Ronaldo’s likeness and/or reputation.

For the second question, Ronaldo most likely would not have a leg to stand on. By renaming itself, the airport was attempting to honor Ronaldo. This statue was only a small part of this “tribute” to the phenom. Unlike a newspaper article stating false information about a player or a journal article blasting a late night television host, there was simply no attempt the part of the airport to harm Ronaldo here. In fact, the airport’s intent was quite the opposite – to honor him. It is highly unlikely that Ronaldo could prove actual damage from the presentation of this statue. 





[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Portuguese Constitution Art. 26; see also


[6] Id.