Lionel Messi is still one of the most coveted endorsers in world football, and it appears as though he has been tapped by the Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia. The Argentine reportedly travelled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday as one of the special guests of the ministry.

Ahmed Al Khateeb, Minister for Tourism, welcomed Messi to the country, which has long been embroiled in human rights abuse allegations. The Paris Saint-Germain forward, however, did not appear to be bothered by the controversies surrounding the country and its leaders. In fact, it appears to be quite the opposite.

According to Marca, reports from France are claiming that Messi had agreed to a new position as a "tourism ambassador" for the Middle Eastern state. As such, he will have an active role in attracting visitors to the country, as well as helping "clean up" Saudi Arabia's image in the international community.

The country has been aggressive in using sports to attract visitors in recent years, claiming staging rights to the Spanish Super Cup among others. Last year, the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix also brought the Formula One circuit to the country. They have already staged the second race earlier this year, despite a missile attack at an ARAMCO facility just a few miles away from the race track in the days leading up to the event.

None of these issues seemed to bother Messi, who visited alongside fellow PSG player and Argentina international Leandro Paredes.

The minister was understandably pleased by the famous footballer's presence. "I am happy to welcome Lionel. We are delighted to have him explore the treasure of the Red Sea, the Jeddah station and our ancient history. This is not his first visit to the Kingdom and it will not be his last," said Al Khateeb.

Messi also shared a photo of himself from Saudi Arabia on his official Instagram account, saying "Discovering the Red Sea in Saudi. #VisitSaudi." The post has a paid partnership label with @visitsaudi, making it clear that it was indeed a working trip.

The visit is also unusual, considering how PSG is owned by Qatar, which has had strained diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in the past. However, things appear calmer at the moment, and Qatar is on a mission to forge ties with its neighbours leading up to the FIFA World Cup which they will host at the end of the year.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi AFP / FRANCK FIFE