Argentine football star Lionel Messi has been criticized for appearing in casual attire for a meeting with the president of the West African country, Gabon, last weekend.
Messi, 28, was in Gabon to help lay the first foundation stones for a new stadium in Port-Gentil, one of those to be used in the 2017 Africa Nations Cup, and he showed up for the widely covered occasion – alongside Gabon president Ali Bongo – dressed extremely casually in a loose white T-shirt, distressed denim shorts, and a pair of sneakers.
Messi’s appearance especially drew the ire of Gabon’s opposition party, Union du Peuple Gabonais (UPG), who released a statement slating the Barcelona striker for showing “a lack of respect for standards and principles.”
“The messiah of football arrived in Gabon like he were going to a zoo: dirty, unshaven and his hands in his pockets, looking for peanuts to throw to them!”
“When you’re called Lionel Messi and you’re a multi-billionaire, 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. We are uneasy with Messi’s attitude and his attire. Only for these reasons, linked to respect for the host country, do we condemn the footballer’s indelicateness, to say the least!”
The Gabon trip, supposed to be a relaxing stop for the holidaying Messi, is proving to be more trouble than envisaged. Earlier in the week, The Daily Mail reported France Football’s claim that Messi had received €3.5m for the trip. The Gabon government has rejected the allegation though, releasing a statement through its embassy in London denying “having transferred or having promised to transfer any sum of money” to Messi for his appearance.
Messi’s association with the Gabonese president has also drawn some criticism. Ali Bongo, president since 2009 when he took over after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, is one of Africa’s more controversial and richest leaders, with corruption, electoral fraud, and human rights abuses among the accusations against him, according to The Guardian.
Messi led Barcelona to three cups last season, but his season ended in disappointment at the Copa America, where Argentina were unfortunate to lose to Chile in the final.
It appears he’s not having much luck in the PR department either.
[Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images]