As the sun set over the endless open sea, Lionel Messi sat on the edge of the boat, stretching his legs and posing for a photo that signaled the start of a public partnership with Saudi Arabia.
The image was shared on Instagram with Messi’s 400+ million followers May 9, 2022was accompanied by the bilingual caption, “Discovering the Red Sea #VisitSaudi.” Hours earlier, Messi had been welcomed to the kingdom by Saudi Arabia’s tourism minister, who boasted on Twitter that it was Messi’s first visit to the country.it won’t be the last“
Messi, who is arguably the greatest player in world football, has begun to profit from his new partnership. His Red Sea photoshoot likely earned him about $2 million, a first step in fulfilling a worthy royal agreement. Millions more.
Details of Messi’s role as the Saudi Arabia national team’s high-paid pitcher are contained in an undisclosed version of his contract with the tourism authority, which has been vetted by The New York Times.
The deal is a three-year, up to €22.5 million (approximately $25 million) deal for Messi with a small amount of real work (a few commercial appearances, a few social media posts, and a full-paid leave to the kingdom). ). family and children. He is expected to share images from these trips with Saudi Arabia-approved hashtags with his huge following online.
But the document also contains important terms for Saudi officials. Messi said he could not say anything that could “hurt” Saudi Arabia, which has faced widespread criticism over human rights issues.
Details of the deal with Messi, who won the World Cup with Argentina in December, show how the oil-rich kingdom is using its wealth to attract top athletes to boost its global image. You can get a glimpse inside. Critics in Saudi Arabia have derided the strategy as sportwashing. That means using sports and sports figures to cover up the country’s human rights record, its treatment of women, the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and other authoritarian acts.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on big bets on professional sports, including buying a Premier League football team. Championship boxing match. Scheduled suspension of F1 car racing. And most recently, there has been a brazen intrusion into professional golf.
Saudi Arabia has offered hundreds of millions of dollars more to lure Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and dozens of other football stars to play in the domestic league. Messi recently turned down a similar offer, opting instead to join Major League Soccer side Inter Miami. But so far there is no indication that the decision has affected his relationship with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, he seems eager to remain in their favor.
In February 2021, just weeks after signing the deal, Messi wrote to the Saudi Tourism Minister apologizing for being unable to make a planned visit. In a previously unreported letter, Messi addressed Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Kateeb as “Your Excellency” and expressed his “deep regret” for his absence in unusually flamboyant prose. At the time, Messi was playing for FC Barcelona, and as a “sportsman” he wrote that he had an inescapable duty: a league match against Real Betis followed by a Spanish Cup match.
Eventually, the Saudis also visited. The most recent was when Messi took a short mid-season vacation to Saudi Arabia last month, a year after he first posted about Saudi tourism on Instagram, and like his previous visits, Messi said: was supposed to be paid a seven-figure salary based on statutory provisions. The terms of his Saudi tourism contract.
By then Messi had left Barcelona and was playing for the French team Paris Saint-Germain. When he returned from his stay in Saudi Arabia, the French club suspended him for missing training without notice. Messi apologized to his team and fans in an explanation that suggested the trip was not voluntary.I couldn’t cancel“
Until now, the details of Messi’s deal with tourism authorities have been kept secret. It’s not clear if the contract reviewed by The Times is current. The information was shared on condition of anonymity by a person with direct knowledge of Messi’s deal with Saudi Arabia, who was not authorized to divulge the details of the deal. The document, dated 1 January 2021, was signed by Messi and his brother Rodrigo, who is his business manager, but not by Saudi officials.
The terms outlined in the document are consistent with how Messi has used his social media accounts to promote the kingdom and how he has visited the country for promotional purposes.
The contract specifies Messi’s obligations and the amount to be paid to fulfill each obligation.
Approximately $2 million, approx. €1.8 million for a family trip lasting 5 days at least once a year, or 2 family trips a year with alternating 3 days each. Messi and up to 20 of her family and friends’ travel expenses and five-star accommodation were to be covered by the Saudi government.
An additional $2 million to promote Saudi Arabia on social media accounts 10 times a year, apart from promoting vacations to Saudi Arabia.
About $2 million more is needed to participate in the annual tourism campaign. (He and Saudi officials shared the first campaign, an elaborate desert video, in November.)
An additional $2 million in charity and performance fees.
Few were willing to actively discuss the terms of Messi’s contract. Pablo Negre Avello, Messi’s head of commercial dealings, said all of Messi’s contracts include confidentiality clauses. Avello suggested the Times reporter contact the tourism authorities. Officials in the country did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Raiko García Cabrera, a former footballer who brokered meetings between Messi’s management and Saudi officials, including the tourism minister, said the deal compares favorably with the huge salaries the country pays stars like Ronaldo and Benzema. He said it was worth a “small amount.” But Garcia said he agreed to become a tourism spokesperson because Messi “believes in Saudi Arabia and its vision”.
“I was in it, and I was very surprised when Messi didn’t ask for a lot of money,” Garcia added. Garcia said he did not know the exact terms of the deal.
Looking back at Messi’s social media posts and travels, it looks like he’s living up to the terms of his deal. His Instagram account — which has 470 million followers and is one of the largest on the platform — is regular flow Messages and photos from Saudi Arabia. During a visit in May, Messi participates in a variety of family activities with his sons, including stroking horses, playing games at an arcade, and sitting with a craftsman wearing a knitted hat. He was photographed with his wife and children.
In 2021, amid reports circulating that linked Messi to Saudi Arabia, a Saudi dissident family urged the player to reject an endorsement offer, which Messi eventually accepted.of open letterThey begged him to write, “The Saudi regime wants to use you to clean its reputation.”
Saudi officials have denied the charges. Messi, on the other hand, has not mentioned it. Instead, he expressed amazement at Saudi Arabia’s natural beauty.
One of Messi’s most recent posts is a photo of the kingdom’s date palm groves and other natural attractions. The caption reads:Who would have thought Saudi Arabia would be so green?“