Cristiano Ronaldo has reportedly turned down a multi-million-pound offer to become the face of Saudi Arabian tourism.
The deal was for 6 million euros a year (5.3 million pounds) and included Ronaldo’s visits to the country and the use of his image on all promotional materials.
Ronaldo’s great rival Lionel Messi was also approached by the Saudi Arabian Tourism Authority, but his opinion on the proposal is not yet known.
Representatives of both Ronaldo and Messi declined to discuss the matter when approached by The Telegraph.
Earlier this week, Ronaldo became the highest-scoring player in the history of the sport when Juventus Napoli won the Italian Super Cup, while Messi has been named World Player of the Year six times.
Saudi Arabia is aiming to become an attractive tourist destination with its “Visit Saudi” campaign as the country’s reputation is in tatters due to its checkered human rights record, although travel is currently restricted due to Covid-19 and Visit Saudi advertisements indicate that a visa is needed to travel there.
The international reach of two of the most successful players of all time would have added significant weight to their campaign, but any athlete willing to strike a deal with the kingdom would face heavy criticism.
Saudi Arabia uses sport more generally to promote itself, hosting the Spanish Super Cup in Jeddah last January, where Messi’s Barcelona competed for the trophy alongside Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia.
Barca’s then-manager Ernesto Valverde admitted that “we’re here for the money,” in the first year of a three-year deal that netted the Spanish Football Federation £102 million (although the event was ultimately held in Spain that year due to the coronavirus pandemic).
Messi was also in Riyadh in November 2019 for a friendly match for Argentina against Brazil, where he met Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the country’s “general entertainment authority” and majority owner of Segunda Division club Almeria.