Football icon Lionel Messi has been unveiled as a tourism ambassador for Saudi Arabia while enjoying a short break in the city of Jeddah.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner played his own part in confirming his new role by uploading a paid partnership post with Visit Saudi to his 236 million followers on Instagram.
On a boat with two men, one of whom appears to be fellow Argentine and PSG teammate Leandro Paredes, Messi said that he was “discovering the Red Sea” in both English and Spanish.
On Twitter, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said he was “pleased to welcome Lionel Messi to Saudi Arabia” and provided confirmation of the 34-year-old’s appointment as an ambassador in his hashtag.
“We are excited for you to explore the treasure of the Red Sea, the Jeddah Season and our ancient history. This is not his first visit to the Kingdom and it will not be the last,” Al-Khateeb vowed.
I am pleased to welcome Lionel Messi to Saudi Arabia We are excited for you to explore the treasures of the Red Sea, the Jeddah Season and our ancient history.
Pleased by the news, former Al-Hilal and Saudi national team star Sami Al-Jaber said it was a “very distinguished and unique step” to have Messi as an ambassador for Saudi Tourism “due to the huge impact the player has, which will reflect positively on Jeddah’s position as a tourist destination.”
Messi is believed to boast a strong friendship with Turki Al-Sheikh, who is the head of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.
Yet the development has not gone down well with everyone, with some criticizing the ex-FC Barcelona ace for aligning himself with a country whose leadership have been accused of human rights abuses and playing a part in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which it denies.
“We (rightly) criticize the use of state-owned football clubs for sportswashing purposes, but the likes of [David] Beckham and Messi will get away with being the face of these regimes for money they don’t need,” noted one popular Twitter onlooker.
“Fans of these clubs get far more grief than millionaire footballers raking it in,” it was added, in a nod to the way Newcastle United supporters were derided for celebrating the 2021 takeover of their long-suffering club by the Saudi backed Public Investment Fund.
“When he is already so wealthy, why do something which will only taint your image or brand? What is the upside of doing this, for him?” a separate party asked.
With the Ligue 1 title already wrapped up, Messi returns to PSG action on Saturday away at Montpellier.