Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has caused an uproar in Egypt after offering to donate his boots for a charity auction.
The Barcelona forward made the offer during an appearance on an Egyptian television programme, ‘Yes, I am famous’. But Messi soon found that his statement, which was intended as a kind gesture, was loaded with insulting connotations in Arab culture.
In Arab countries, shoes are a symbol of disrespect or insult and Messi’s gesture has unfortunately been misinterpreted by some people in Egypt as a national insult.
The Egyptian Football Association joined the nationwide condemnation of the Barcelona star’s gesture.
“Our poor people don’t need him. Shoes work for him,” Azmy Megahed, a spokesman for the Egyptian FA, was quoted as saying by the media here on Wednesday.
“I’m confused, if he intends to humiliate us, then I say he better put those shoes on his head and on the heads of the people supporting him,” he added.
“Give your shoes to your country, Argentina is full of poverty.”
Said Hasasin, a member of the Egyptian parliament, appeared on television and donated his own shoe to the footballer as a mark of protest.
“We have never been humiliated during our seven thousand years of civilisation. I will hit you with the shoes, Messi,” Hasasin said on an Egyptian television show.
“This is my shoe. I donate it to Argentina.”
One Egyptian Twitter user posted,”This is the most disgusting. He was paid thousands of dollars and at the end he donated his shoes and the stupid presenter was happy.”
However, there is some amount of support for Messi as well, with former Egypt international Mido defending the 28-year-old’s intentions.
“The most precious thing a writer owns is his pen… and the most precious thing a footballer owns is his shoes”, the former AS Roma and Tottenham striker tweeted.
Mona El-Sharkawy, the journalist who conducted the interview with Messi also accused the Argentine’s critics of distorting the truth.
“This is so false. It’s a trend on our show that we take a souvenir from our guest and put it up for auction for charity. I am surprised. I didn’t say we would be giving it to charity in Egypt or any other place,” she explained.