Football fans enjoyed what possibly could be the last time that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo faced off on Thursday in a friendly match between Paris Saint-Germain and a hybrid team made up of Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal players.
However, the human rights organization Amnesty has hit out at the two superstar footballers and said the friendly is the latest example of sports washing from Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty has previously criticized the country’s tries to gain legitimacy through sports despite its reported human rights record, which many consider appalling.
“This match is a reminder that Saudi Arabia’s sports washing efforts are still operating at full throttle,” Amnesty UK’s economic affairs director Peter Frankental said (h/t talkSPORT).
“Ronaldo’s big-money transfer to Al Nassr and Messi’s engagement by the Saudi authorities as a tourism ambassador are both part of Riyadh’s aggressive sports washing program, with the authorities seeking to exploit the celebrity appeal of elite sport to deflect attention from the country’s appalling human rights record.”
Ronaldo only signed for Al-Nassr earlier this month but has yet to play for his new club after both parties ripped up his contract at Manchester United in November. Additionally, Messi signed to become an ambassador for Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Arabia’s extensive use of sport as an exercise in soft power is well-known, but with Qatari-owned PSG appearing in Riyadh we effectively have two sports washing superpowers – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – flexing their muscles,” Frankental said.
“Footballers like Ronaldo and Messi have huge profiles and we’d like to see them resisting being used as the famous faces of sports washing, including by speaking out about human rights issues in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
Saudi Arabia is mulling over a possible bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup after witnessing the tournament held in Qatar last year.