News Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could take the pitch together next year was met with worldwide excitement, but Inter Miami has refuted a Tuesday announcement it will play 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,” Inter Miami’s statement said. “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 Messi and Ronaldo matchup would have given fans around the world perhaps one last chance to debate who is the greatest soccer player in the world.

The statement released earlier Tuesday by Saudi sports and entertainment official Turki Al-Sheikh said Inter Miami would play 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, 36, and Ronaldo, 38, have 13 Ballon d’Or awards between them, with Messi recently winning his eighth award, the most of any player. Ronaldo is next in line with five Ballon d’Ors. And a matchup between them at this stage of their career would only feed into the never-ending debate among soccer fans as which player is the greatest.

The last time Messi and Ronaldo met was earlier this year, when Messi and Paris Saint-Germain edged Ronaldo and a team of Saudi all-stars 5-4. Both Messi and Ronaldo scored during the affair.

Saudi Arabia and concerns about sportswashing

Massive sports stars participating in Saudi-backed events and leagues is nothing new, and has raised concerns in recent years about sportswashing — using major sporting events and global superstars to erase a poor public image due to a long history of human rights violations.

The Saudis have been gaining a foothold in various sports. In soccer, the Saudi Pro League lured Ronaldo, Neymar and others with massive contracts clubs around the world could not match. Messi also received an offer reportedly close to $400 million per year from Al-Hilal before opting to join Inter Miami. Saudis also own the Premier League’s Newcastle United FC.

Source: USA Today

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