Does Leo Messi promote Saudi Arabia?
Messi’s connection to Saudi Arabia will lead to questions and potential controversy following Argentina’s shocking loss to the Arab state
Saudi Arabia just pulled off the shock of the 2022 World Cup so far by beating one of the tournament’s favorites, Argentina.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi got his team off to a fine start with a calmly taken penalty kick 10 minutes into the their first World Cup 2022 opener against minnows Saudi Arabia. But goals by Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari in the second half, both within a five-minute span, canceled out Messi’s first-half penalty, giving the Saudis their greatest comeback victory at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.
The shocking victory isn’t only raising questions about how Argentina just got beaten by the second least expensive squad in the entire World Cup (after Qatar), but also how the Saudis just took an unbeaten 36-game (running over three and a half years) from Messi’s Argentina, who were one of the fancied sides to win the tournament.
And to top it all off, Messi happens to be a promoter of Saudi Arabia…
Messi’s agreement with Saudi Arabia
Back in May, quite possibly the greatest and most famous footballer on the planet signed an agreement to promote Saudi Arabia. The deal was specifically to push the state’s tourism, although it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Saudi Arabia are also bidding for the 2030 World Cup.
Saudi Arabia’s World Cup bid is linked to its “Vision 2030″, which is described as “a unique transformative economic and social reform blueprint that is opening Saudi Arabia up to the world”.
Messi, sport washing for Saudi Arabia?
Messi’s commercial deal with the Saudi regime, receiving what is likely to be an enormous amount of cash to promote the country has been widely noted as another way of ‘sportswashing’ - the use of sport to attempt to cover up Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, including the assassination of the Washington Post journalist, and Saudi-born Jamal Khashoggi, in addition to the suppression of women’s rights activists, LGBT people and those who speak out against the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Argentina’s World Cup 2030 bid
Argentina are also involved in a bid for the World Cup in 2030 - to be hosted jointly with Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay - leading to questions being asked about whether Messi promoting Saudi Arabia could conflict with his own country’s attempts to stage a World Cup in 2030. However his enormous role in keeping his team undefeated over the past three and a half years has balanced the argument out, up till now.
While there is no doubt Messi was doing his utmost out on the pitch against Saudi Arabia in today’s Group C World Cup match, his connection to Saudi Arabia will of course lead to questions and potential controversy.