As I have read on the UK telegraph, and many other news outlets have also reported on this, the famous Argentine and Barcelona star Lionel Messi came under fire by the Human Rights Organisation for his trip to Gabon. As the Human Rights Organization president Thor Halvorssen stated: “In providing PR services to Gabon’s Bongo family, Lionel Messi has seriously undermined the credibility of his own charitable foundation.”. Furthermore, Messi was accused of being paid an astonishing 3.5 million euros by France Football, but those accusations were categorically denied by the Gabon embassy.
The Human Rights Foundation was founded in 2005, with the first office opening a year later in New York in August of 2006. The HRF is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a special focus on closed societies. Their mission is, as stated on their website, to: “Unite people in the common cause of defending human rights and promoting liberal democracy”. Since they are against closed societies, this is probably the main cause of their reaction to Messi’s visit to Gabon.
The country’s president Ali Bongo was previously accused by the HRF for acting as a dictator and was involved in a scandal with a ritual in which young children are sacrificed and their organs harvested for human consumption. That does not sound like a guy you want to anyone involved with, especially not a sportsman like Messi.
Messi was a guest of honor in Gabon, one of the activities during his visit was to lay the first stone for the construction of the Port-Gentil stadium. This stadium is set to be the venue for the African Cup of Nations, scheduled for 2017.
The controversy does not end there – Messi was further accused for his outfit. Quoting the political party Union De Peuple Gabonais, it was obvious that they were not happy with the way Messi looked.
“The messiah of football arrived in Gabon like he was going to a zoo: dirty, unshaven and his hands in his pockets, looking for peanuts to throw at them!
When you’re called Lionel Messi and you’re a multi-millionaire, you don’t have the right to present yourself to officials of a republic, even a banana one, with your hands in the pockets of a ripped, tattered pair of shorts. Gabon isn’t a zoo. We don’t know what the Argentine came to Gabon for, but we at least have the right to denounce his negligence and his lack of respect for standards and principles. Only for these reasons, linked to respect for the host country, do we condemn the footballer’s delicateness, to say the least!”.
I do not think that the criticism of the Union De Peuple Gabonais should be taken seriously, it looks like they are just trying to gain cheap political points for their political party. Messi is a football player and not an ambassador or president of a different state, it was not a meeting between two high ranking political officials. He was a guest of honor, promoting a future sport event and should be allowed to dress any way he feels most comfortable.
Are Messi’s criticisers right? Should he have been more careful and more aware of the political and human rights situation in Gabon? Or was he just used by these parties for gaining media attention. I leave you to make that decision for yourself.