Will Messi and Ronaldo meet again? Inter Miami denies scheduling a match with Al-Nassr

The prospect of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo sharing the field next year sparked global excitement. However, Inter Miami has contradicted a Tuesday announcement, stating that it will not participate in a match in Saudi Arabia.

“Earlier today, an announcement was issued stating that Inter Miami CF is scheduled to play in the Riyadh Season Cup. This is inaccurate. The release included statements attributed to team owner Jorge Mas. Mas has made no comments, publicly or privately, in relation to the preseason tour,” clarified Inter Miami’s statement. “Since day one, Inter Miami CF has set out to be a global brand. To this end, we have been in conversations to determine our 2024 preseason schedule.”

“We look forward to showcasing our players on Inter Miami CF’s first international tour, which will be announced in the coming weeks.”

The potential matchup between Messi and Ronaldo would have provided fans around the world with perhaps one last chance to debate who is the greatest soccer player in the world.

The statement released earlier on Tuesday by Saudi sports and entertainment official Turki Al-Sheikh indicated that Inter Miami would play against Al-Nassr, Ronaldo’s Saudi-based club, in a ‘last dance’ as part of the Riyadh Season Cup at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Messi, aged 36, and Ronaldo, aged 38, boast a combined total of 13 Ballon d’Or awards. Messi, most recently, secured his eighth award, the highest for any player, while Ronaldo follows closely with five Ballon d’Ors. A matchup between them at this stage of their careers would only fuel the ongoing debate among soccer fans about which player is the greatest.

The most recent encounter between Messi and Ronaldo took place earlier this year when Messi, playing for Paris Saint-Germain, narrowly defeated Ronaldo and a team of Saudi all-stars 5-4. Both Messi and Ronaldo scored during the match.

Saudi Arabia and concerns about sports washing

The involvement of prominent sports stars in Saudi-backed events and leagues is not a new phenomenon and has raised concerns in recent years about “sportswashing” — the use of major sporting events and global superstars to improve a tarnished public image associated with a long history of human rights violations.

The Saudis have been making inroads into various sports. In soccer, the Saudi Pro League attracted Ronaldo, Neymar, and other players with substantial contracts that clubs around the world couldn’t match. Messi reportedly received an offer close to $400 million per year from Al-Hilal before choosing to join Inter Miami. Additionally, Saudis own the Premier League’s Newcastle United FC.

FIFA faced criticism earlier this year for contemplating the Saudi tourist bureau as a sponsor for the 2023 World Cup. Additionally, it guaranteed minimal competition for the Saudi bid for the 2034 World Cup.

The Saudi-funded LIV golf tour made a significant impact when it debuted in 2021, attracting major PGA Tour stars and stirring controversy in the golf world. Its success in achieving its objectives led to the PGA Tour agreeing to a merger earlier this year, although the finalization is pending.

Saudi Arabia has made investments in Formula 1, major boxing matches like Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury, and has significant involvement in horse racing. Additionally, the NBA has hosted games in Abu Dhabi.