Off duty at Paris Saint-Germain, Lionel Messi visited Saudi Arabia this week to announce that he will be the new ambassador for tourism in the Middle Eastern country. Through a paid publication on his social networks, the Argentine ace showed a photo with friends on a vessel in the Red Sea.
In the same publication, Messi invites his followers to visit Saudi Arabia. The player’s participation in this campaign sparked revolt from netizens who recalled the controversial Saudi action in relation to human rights. Even the Norwegian page of Amnesty International criticized the partnership.
“Traveling to Saudi Arabia is one thing. But earning money to glorify this country is another. They execute 106 people a year. Anyone who criticizes the authorities is at risk of death. Women’s rights almost do not exist. gay? Death penalty is your fate. Do you really support this Messi?” wrote the Amnesty International page.
Also noteworthy is the diplomatic conflict between Qatar, a country whose sovereign wealth fund owns PSG, Messi’s current club, and Saudi Arabia. Qatar is accused by neighboring countries of funding extremist groups and causing instability in the Middle East. On Monday, Saudi Arabia – alongside Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – announced the severing of diplomatic relations with Qatar.
Messi’s Instagram post received more than 6 million likes. The comments, however, are diverse, with neutral messages, favorable to the ace and criticism of his positioning.
The relationship between the sports world and Saudi Arabia has been subject to several criticisms. One of the first negative moves was the departure of the Spanish Supercup to the country. In recent weeks, complaints about the agreement of the president of the Spanish Federation, Luis Rubiales, with the company of Gerard Piqué to take the tournament to Saudi territory, have given new ingredients to the controversy.
Formula 1 also received strong criticism for taking one of its stages to the Saudi city of Jeddah. In the 2021 and 2022 editions, the speech was the same and the accusation of “sportswashing”, the practice of using sport to improve the country’s image.
The seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who usually shows concern for humanitarian causes, was asked about the issue and said he was uncomfortable with the departure of the biggest category of motorsport to Saudi Arabia, but he sees the action as an important step to shed light on local issues. “The fact that we are in Saudi Arabia shines the spotlight on an issue that perhaps, without us, would have a different place in the news,” he said.