International soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo apparently received some 600,000 euros ($860,000) for his one-day visit this week to Uzbekistan.
The Portuguese wunderkind arrived in Tashkent from Switzerland and was hosted by the Uzbek soccer club FC Bunyodkor. He performed at the club's Jar Stadium for some 14,000 fans. (Ronaldo reportedly even got in a tour
of Uzbekistan's Football Museum.)
But the visit was reportedly sponsored by the Forum of Culture and Art of Uzbekistan Foundation, which belongs to one of the country's most conspicuous glitterati, Uzbek President Islam Karimov's daughter Gulnara.
The press offices of Karimova's fund and the Zeromax Group, which deals with Uzbekistan's mining, gas, and oil industries, have refused to comment on Ronaldo's visit.
FC Bunyodkor is Uzbekistan's best-known club and is managed by Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, who is the highest paid coach in the world with an annual salary of 14 million euros.
Uzbekistan has already hosted soccer stars like Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Carles Puyol, and Andres Iniesta, as well as Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o and Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas.
A 12-year-old boy, Shokhjahon Hasanov of the Bunyodkor Football Academy, played with Ronaldo during his performance at the stadium:
One fan told RFE/RL that money is no object because visits like Ronaldo's play an important role in the development of young soccer players.
Maybe not for some. But others might accuse sponsors in a country with an official average salary of about $220 in 2008 (many experts think that figure is inflated) of profligacy.
-- RFE/RL's Uzbek Service