The diminishing stature of academics in the eyes of the public was highlighted at the World Innovation Summit for Education.
Georges Haddad, director of the higher education division at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, told delegates in Qatar about a visit he made to London with two Nobel laureates and a winner of the Fields Medal for mathematics.
"I wanted these geniuses to attend an exhibition, but we were late and the man on the door refused to let us in," he said.
The refusal stood, even after he explained who his colleagues were.
"But as we turned to leave, the doorman said that he thought I looked like Zinedine Zidane (the French football star). I said he was my cousin - which is not true - but as a result we were not only allowed in, but we got our own private exhibition.
"I respect Zidane, but we have to be careful that he could be seen as more important than those who bring considerable knowledge to the world for eternity."