Lionel Messi, a professional footballer from Argentina who plays forward for Football Club Barcelona and the national Argentine team, was recently accused by member of the Egyptian parliament, Said Hasasin, of “humiliating…all Egyptians.”
During an on-air interview with talk show host, Mona El-Sharkawy of Yes I am Famous, broadcast on the MBC Masr channel, Messi offered his football boots to be auctioned for charity.
A shoe may be construed as disrespectful in Arab culture, especially when thrown or shown the sole. Upon witnessing Messi’s donation, MP Hasasin responded on his own talk show, “Whose shoes do you want to sell, Messi? How much do you think it will get? You don’t know that the nail of a baby Egyptian is worth more than your shoes? Keep your shoes to yourself or sell them to Israel.”
Egyptian Football Association spokesman, Azmi Mogahed, phoned into Hasasin’s show to add, “I know he’s Jewish, he donates to Israel and visited the Wailing Wall…we don’t need his shoes and Egypt’s poor don’t need help from someone with Jewish or Zionist citizenship.”
Ahmed Abdelhamid, better known as Mido, former footballer and current Egyptian football manager of Zamalek, tweeted, “The most precious thing the writer owns is his pen… and the most precious thing the footballer owns is his shoes. I hope we can stop the false accusations.”
Messi is the only football player to have won the European Golden Shoe three times, amongst many other titles. This honour is awarded each season to the leading scorer in matches from the top division of every European national league.
Messi visited the Western Wall with his team, FC Barcelona, as a stop on their peace tour in Israel in 2013. The following year, Messi participated in an all-star match organised by Pope Francis in Rome’s Olympic Stadium to support coexistence amongst people of different religions and support children’s charities. Mohamed Aboutrika, former Egyptian footballer, rejected the Pope’s invitation, citing “Zionist” participation in reference to Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun, alongside whom Aboutrika refused to play.
Messi’s philanthropic endeavours include his position as Ambassador for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) since 2010, when he traveled to Haiti to raise awareness of the effects of the earthquake’s impact on children there. As an active participant in UNICEF’s campaigns, he works to increase child HIV prevention, improve education access, promote disabilities inclusion, and mitigate mortality of disadvantaged youth. The football star founded his own organisation, as well. The Leo Messi Foundation supports access to health care, education and sport, such as youth football in Argentina, amongst other projects.