Leo Messi's 'humiliating' boot donation spawns row with Egypt

Lionel Messi's offer to donate a pair of his game-worn cleats to an Egyptian charity has landed the Barcelona and Argentina star in hot water.

In an interview that aired on "Yes, I am famous" on Egyptian TV station MBC Masr last weekend, the 28-year-old offered to put his boots up for auction and donate the proceeds to charity.

What Messi likely failed to realize is that in Arab cultures, shoes can be used as a symbol of disrespect or insult and the charitable gesture garnered heavy criticism.

Said Hasasin, a parliament member and TV presenter, condemned the action on his evening talk show and even took off his own shoes, offering to donate them in response to Messi's donation.

"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.

"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."

Azmy Megahed, a spokesperson for Egypt's Football Association, also called in to Hasasin's show to tender his disapproval.

"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 ... Give your shoes to your country, Argentina is full of poverty."

In spite of the backlash, some Egyptians are defending Messi and his intentions.

Mona El-Sharkawy, the MBC Masr reporter who conducted the interview, said that the gesture was misconstrued and denied the fact that the donation was not specifically geared toward Egypt alone.

"This is so false," she told news agency Ahram Online. "It's a trend on our show that we take a souvenir from our guest and put it on auction for charity. 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."

Even ex-Middlesbrough and Egypt forward Mido came to the Argentine's defense on Twitter.

H/t Guardian