Lionel Messi has been unveiled as an ambassador for tourism for Saudi Arabia, despite previously being urged to reject such overtures from the families of prisoners in the country.
A tweet from the Saudi Tourism Authority on Monday night showed Messi with his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Leandro Parades in the background, with the caption: ‘We welcome Lionel Messi and his friends to Jeddah to enjoy Jeddah’s historical heritage and the beauty of the Red Sea – #Messi_Ambassador_For_Saudi_Tourism’.
Messi later shared a ‘sponsored by Visit Saudi’ post on Instagram from a yacht with the caption: ‘Discovering the Red Sea in Saudi. #VisitSaudi’.
Back in February, after it emerged via The Telegraph that seven-time ballon d’Or winner Messi had been approached by the Saudi tourism board, families of prisoners of conscience wrote a letter that urged Messi not to get involved.
But even last year, Messi was involved in promotional work with Saudi Arabia with his face seen on billboards in the country. And he is far from the only sporting idol with ties to the nation.
In 2019, David Beckham was criticised for agreeing to play in an exhibition match in the country alongside his former Real Madrid team-mate Zinedine Zidane.
Unicef, for whom Beckham is a goodwill ambassador, has critcised Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen and said bombing attacks had been catastrophic.
Furthermore, Amnesty International at the time released a statement urging sports stars involved in Saudi Arabia to use their platform to call out the regime.