Reticence is not endorsement: the misreading of Lionel Messi’s silence


Not so long ago, the famous footballer Lionel Messi rejected a $400 million offer to play in Saudi Arabia, opting instead to play in the United States for far less money, albeit still agreeing to a deal to promote tourism in Saudi Arabia. Somehow, these personal career and life choices are extremely controversial for the investigative journalist Karim Zidan, who recently published in The Guardian an article (“Lionel Messi chose to play in MLS. But he’s still Saudi Arabia’s $25m pitch man“, 15th of August of 2023) severely condemning mr. Messi for not openly denouncing Saudi Arabia’s repressive policies and human rights abuses, and instead supporting the kingdom’s attempt at clearing its image.

The blatant cynicism of these accusations is hard to ignore. Mr. Zidan seems to have forgotten that mr. Messi comes from Argentina and that most of his supporters live in Hispanic America, a region where most of the wars, coups d’état and right-wing dictatorships have been provoked or backed by the government of the United States.

He failed to mention the daily suffering of Spanish-speaking people in the United States of America, who are subject to rampant discrimination and are ofttimes treated like a dangerous plague that must be curtailed or eradicated.

And he seems to be unaware that the USA has been trying to control the whole world and it is difficult to find some land in the planet where it have not done something deplorable hitherto.

Some naive and confused journalist could misconstrue mr. Zidan’s oblivion and silence as a tacit endorsement of the USA’s misbehaviour, thus helping that empire to sanitise its reputation and make the world overlook its misdeeds. Overlook that it has plenty of nuclear weapons and has actually used them. That it arbitrarily kills people all over the world with drones. That it mercilessly represses journalists who expose its wrongdoings, like Julian Assange. That it surveils the whole globe through the internet and the electronic devices. That 1% of its population is imprisoned, the highest rate in the world. That its police often brutalise, and sometimes murder, dark skinned persons. Or that it frequently supports authoritarian and repressive countries like Saudi Arabia, for its own convenience and interest.

But such accusations of endorsement would be obtusely exaggerated, and I daresay that mr. Zidan would very likely agree that it is absurd to believe or to imply that he condones such terrible things simply because he is not talking about them.

May someone then condemn mr. Messi for not speaking out against the most violent empire that has ever existed? Surely not, for one cannot hold an individual’s career or life choices responsible for the actions of a vicious empire, much less when it comes to something as innocuous as sports, no matter how famous he be.

Instead, one should just be strongly critical of shoddy journalism that tries to create disrespect for people alien to politics, simply because they do not demonstrate some allegiance to the journalist’s ideology.

Mr. Messi and mr. Zidan are free to have and express whatever opinion they think is best, regardless of whether it is for or against some oppressive superpower such as Saudi Arabia or the United States of America. They may even express their disagreement with the career and life choices of a famous person. But they should not present such opinions as “journalism”, for they would hurt the image of their words, making them look like mere, naive and tasteless propaganda. Such is solely my opinion, freely expressed here, I might be wrong, but I could not remain silent; yet I welcome any clarification, in case I have erred with my words.

Written on the 17th of August of 2023, posted on the 1st of September of 2023.

Note: I initially sought to have this reply published in The Guardian, but they did not respond to my emails at all. In hindsight, I realize that this was naïve. Just this week, I saw the newspaper engage in the latest fashionable witch-hunt: the public shaming of a football bureacrat for fleetingly kissing a female player during a victory celebration. This underscores how it, like other media, succumbs to today’s dogmatic moralist ideologies and their uncritical eristic judgments. Consequently, it seems unlikely that they would accept a piece that praises liberty and challenges prejudices.


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