By Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
Lionel Messi’s unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia which led to him being suspended by Paris St Germain included activities such as feeding gazelles and visiting a luxury retail complex, according to a release from the Middle East state’s tourism authority.
The Argentina World Cup winner has been suspended for two weeks by PSG and had his wages docked for the same period after setting off for Saudi Arabia following Sunday’s match against Lorient without club consent, the PA news agency understands.
A release issued on behalf of the Saudi Tourism Authority on Wednesday said Messi and his family had “indulged in a fine-dining experience” at the Al Bujairi Terrace.
It said Messi had visited the VIA Riyadh luxury retail complex and also the 300-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah.
Before heading to Diriyah the family had been to a farm where they fed Arabian gazelles, the release said.
Amnesty International said earlier this year that Messi’s ambassador role with Saudi Arabia was part of the country’s “aggressive sportswashing programme”, with Saudi authorities “seeking to exploit the celebrity appeal of elite sport to deflect attention from the country’s appalling human rights record”.
The unauthorised trip has thrown Messi’s future at, and commitment to, PSG into the spotlight again. The 35-year-old has already faced jeers from fans in recent matches, despite his 24 goals for the French capital club this season.
The superstar does not appear to fit with president Nasser Al Khelaifi’s attempts to move away from a “bling bling” culture and instead focus on a strategy of recruiting and developing top French talent.
Renewing Kylian Mbappe’s contract a year ago is seen by the PSG hierarchy as being part of that strategy, but for Messi it appears the writing is on the wall in Paris, with his contract up in the summer.