A Saudi real estate mogul won a ticket to see a friendly match between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi after bidding $2.6 million at auction. The match, which will take place on Thursday in Riyadh, will pit Messi’s Paris Saint-Germain against a select side made up of players from Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr and their Saudi rivals Al Hilal. The proceeds from the auction will go to the national charity campaign known as Ehsan. This match will be the first time Ronaldo has played any football in the kingdom since signing a contract with Al Nassr that runs until 2025 and is worth more than 200 million euros, according to sources close to the club. He is also scheduled to make his Saudi Pro League debut for Al Nassr on Sunday. To promote the friendly match, Turki al-Sheikh, an advisor at the Royal Court and head of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, announced a charity auction for a special ticket that would come with perks like photo opportunities with players and access to the locker rooms. Bidding started at 1 million Saudi riyals ($266,000) and the auction closed at 11:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich monarchy, has been criticized for using sport to distract attention from human rights controversies, a practice known as “sportswashing.” Saudi Arabia has been snapping up sports assets as part of a drive to soften its austere image. Ronaldo is expected to receive a combined 400 million euros in the kingdom, including a separate payment for his work as an ambassador for an anticipated World Cup bid for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece, according to sources close to Al Nassr.