Lionel Messi has become the subject of online insult and derision in Egypt after donating a pair of match-worn boots for charity.
Such boots from such a famous footballer should normally fetch good money in an auction, thereby raising funds for charity.
However, the Barcelona superstar’s generous gesture has upset numerous Egyptians as it is regarded as a national insult.
The BBC reports that during a TV interview with the “Yes I am Famous” show, broadcast on MBC’s Misr Channel, Messi, who scored his 50th international goal in his 107th appearance for Argentina on Tuesday night, told the presenter he would like to donate his football boots to be auctioned off for charity.
But in Egypt and other Arab countries shoes can be used as a symbol of disrespect or insult. So some Egyptians took offence and turned to social media to express their anger.
“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,” tweeted one user called @Sala77ar7ash.
Another user called @sulimanahmad670 commented: “Egypt’s name is greater than Messi’s shoes. This is a big insult to Egypt.”
In Arab culture, showing the soles of your shoes can be seen as especially insulting. The Arabic expression “to hit someone with a shoe” is offensive.
The shoe can be considered dirty because it is on the ground and associated with the foot, the lowest part of the body. So some people have taken issue with the fact the TV presenter Mona al-Sharqawi held Messi’s donated boots with her hands.
“Wake up Arabs and smell the coffee. No time for sleeping. She [the presenter] should have refused this insignificant donation,” tweeted @awatifalqaisey.
In response to the perceived insult, Egyptian MP Said Hasasin who presents a programme called “Infirad” (Exclusive) on private Al-Asimah TV, went so far as to take off his shoes on air saying he would donate them to Messi.