How Saudi Arabia bought Messi's endorsement—and his silence
The kingdom has managed to transform the greatest footballer of all time into a propaganda puppet willing to espouse any message for the right price.
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As Lionel Messi took centre stage, framed by an empty hall and a defiant brick wall bearing the words, “Just a desert,” the Argentinian virtuoso furrowed his brow in concentration. With a poised wind-up, he hurled a shot, and as the wall shatters, a visual kaleidoscope unfolds, revealing the captivating landscapes of the Red Sea coast, intricate coral reefs, and towering skyscrapers.
Shared with Messi's colossal Instagram following of 500 million this week, the accompanying caption echoes the sentiment: "What I love about Saudi is that I always discover what I never expected."
The footage—part of a marketing campaign launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority—marked the latest act in Messi's ongoing role as the kingdom’s well-compensated pitchman.
Dubbed “Go Beyond What You Think,” the campaign aimed to address “misconceptions” and “outdated stereotypes” about Saudi Arabia. According to the official press release, the campaign “invites audiences to experience the incredible and vibrant cultural transformation taking place across Saudi.”
The press release continues: “Lionel Messi is one of many leading international figures who took that pledge. Messi has a fond connection with Saudi being a frequent visitor to the country, including most recently with his wife, Antonella and their two children last Spring. Both Messi and his family have expressed delight in their Saudi experiences and a desire to continue visiting the country.”
Despite Saudi Arabia's recent promotional campaign portraying Messi as an athlete who thoroughly enjoys family visits to the kingdom, the campaign stops short of acknowledging Messi's official affiliation with Saudi Arabia through his role as a tourism ambassador for the country.
Additional information, including select excerpts from Messi’s tourism contract, is available for paid subscribers below.