CAIRO (Reuters) – World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi found himself the unlikely figure of controversy in Egypt after a local politician and a soccer official reacted angrily when he donated a pair of his boots to raise money for charity.
MBC Masr channel broadcast an interview last Saturday with Barcelona’s Messi on the television program ‘Yes I am Famous’, but the announcement that the Argentina forward would auction his boots for charity provoked an unexpected response.
Member of parliament and television presenter Said Hasasin, appearing on his own talk show, took off his shoes and said he would donate them to the poor of Argentina.
“Whose shoes do you want to sell, Messi? How much do you think it will get? You don’t know that the nail of a baby Egyptian is worth more than your shoes? Keep your shoes to yourself or sell them to Israel.”
“Messi, we Egyptians are 90 million people, who have pride, we have shoes.”
“We don’t eat off the money of other peoples’ shoes. I would have understood if he donated his Barcelona uniform to the Egyptians, it’s accepted. But just the shoes? It’s humiliating to all Egyptians and I do not accept this humiliation. Egyptians may not find food, but they have pride.”
“We Egyptians have never been humiliated before during our seven thousand years of civilization.”
Throwing shoes is considered an insult in the Middle East.
“We don’t need his shoes and we don’t need charity from Jewish or Israeli people.”
Hasasin called up Azmy Megahed, a spokesman for the Egyptian Football Association, on his program, who added:
“I am confused. If he (Messi) intends to humiliate us, then I say he’d better put these shoes on his head and on the heads of the people supporting him. We don’t need his shoes and we don’t need charity from Jewish or Israeli people. Give your shoes to your country, Argentina is full of poverty.”
MBC Masr’s Mona El-Sharkawy who interviewed Messi said the gesture had been misinterpreted and that the donation was not for an Egyptian charity.
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“I am surprised, I didn’t say we will be giving it to charity in Egypt or any other place. I don’t know why they said he is presenting it to Egypt. This was never said.”
Messi has not commented on the reaction to his donation.
Former Egypt forward Mido said he was grateful for Messi’s gesture, writing on Twitter: “The most precious thing the writer owns is his pen … and the most precious thing the footballer owns is his shoes. I hope we stop the false accusations.”
(Writing by Richard Martin in Barcelona,; additional reporting by Ola Noureldin in Cairo; Editing by Ken Ferris and Gareth Jones)