PARIS, France — Argentina star Lionel Messi has been quoted as refusing to play against “people who kill innocent Palestinian children” following the cancellation of a friendly soccer match between Argentina and Israel. There is no evidence he made this statement.
Messi has been widely quoted as telling Argentina sports channel TyC Sports: “As a UNICEF ambassador, I cannot play against people who kill innocent Palestinian children. We had to cancel the game because we are humans before we are footballers.”
The quote was widely shared on social media following the decision by Argentina on Wednesday to cancel its World Cup warm-up match against Israel in Jerusalem on Saturday, following pressure and threats from the Palestinians and BDS activists.
However, TyC Sports reporter Martin Arevalo, who is in Barcelona where Argentina are preparing for the World Cup, said his channel had never spoken to Messi.
“What you are writing is false. Messi has not spoken to the media and not with TyC Sports on this subject. Be accurate. During his preparations for the World Cup, Messi is not talking to the press,” he said in a widely shared tweet late Wednesday.
Messi, the five-time world player of the year, is not known for courting controversy or issuing political statements. As a UNICEF ambassador and global star, anything he says is carefully vetted by his PR team and he has carefully steered clear of divisive issues.