Argentinian and Paris Saint-Germain star Lionel Messi has been officially announced as a brand ambassador for the Saudi Tourism Authority. The announcement of the partnership saw Messi land in Saudi Arabia for the Jeddah Season, an art and culture festival which has almost 2800 separate events. The Argentinian even uploaded a sponsored post on his Instagram handle announcing the partnership.
Ahmed Al Khateeb, Tourism Minister, Saudi Arabia, commented:
“I am pleased to welcome Lionel Messi to Saudi Arabia. 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.”
Sami Al-Jaber, former Al-Hilal and Saudi national team forward, welcomed Messi by stating:
“It is 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.”
The partnership though wasn’t met without criticism. Grant Liberty, a human rights organisation, had asked Messi to not partner with the country, when reports had first come out of a possible partnership.
A letter shared by the family members of the prisoners of conscience said:
“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 launder 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 campaigners, reformist preachers, Shia activists, democracy campaigners, indeed anyone who criticises or even questions the regime can face long-term imprisonment and in some cases the death penalty.
“If you say ‘yes’ to Visit Saudi you are in effect saying yes to all the human rights abuses that take place today in modern Saudi Arabia. But if you say ‘no’ you will send an 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 on others.”