Leo Messi has been unveiled as the new official brand ambassador of the Saudi Tourism Authority, despite human rights groups urging him not to get involved with the Saudi regime.
The seven-time Balon d’Or winner traveled to Jeddah today with his Argentinian and PSG team-mate Leandro Parades and posted a ‘Visit Saudi sponsored’ post on Instagram, ‘Discover the Red Sea in Arabia’. #VisitSaudi’.
When the Argentina captain was approached by Saudi Tourism earlier this year, a group representing families in prisons in the Gulf state wrote to Messi via Grant Liberty.
“You are an inspiration to millions and what you say and do really matters. To put it bluntly, you have enormous power, but with that power comes great responsibility.
“The Saudi regime wants to use you to whitewash its reputation. Prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia have been tortured, sexually assaulted and held in prolonged solitary confinement – often for months at a time – on an industrial scale.
“Women’s rights activists, reformist preachers, Shia activists, democracy activists, indeed, anyone who criticizes or even questions the regime can face a long prison sentence and, in some cases, the death penalty.
“If you say ‘yes’ to Visit Saudi, you are effectively saying yes to all the human rights abuses taking place today in modern Saudi Arabia. But if you say ‘no’, you will be sending a equally powerful message – that human rights matter, that decency matters, that those who torture and murder do not do so with impunity.
“The world must stand up to those who trample others.”
South American soccer expert Marcela Mora y Araujo joined Joe Molloy on The football show to discuss the choice of the PSG attacker to join forces with a Saudi regime accused of multiple human rights violations.
“In the pinnacle of elite sport it finds itself in, it’s not a world that cares about human rights issues, and it never has.
“I think Messi really is a celebrity at maximum value right now and that value is going down,” the Guardian writer said when asked why such a wealthy sports star would agree to such a deal.
“From a purely commercial and financial point of view, it is gaining ground. It’s a World Cup year, his last, and he’s going to be the biggest star of the tournament.
“While I would love to see football address these issues, I think we are way off the mark. Especially in a World Cup year when it is FIFA’s biggest business and it is a game silver.”
Araujo says Messi has continually sought to avoid taking political positions during his career.
“He didn’t use his voice. It’s interesting that you mention Marcus Rashford because I think he’s a pretty unique example of someone who really campaigned for social change.
“It’s very different from just donating money or setting up a foundation or something. It’s unlikely that Messi will be asked about this deal because in interviews he’s treated with kid gloves.
“I think he’s super bright but I don’t think he’s too committed to wider issues.”
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