By Becks Fleet
David Beckham, ex-England captain and football legend, has remained a constant presence in pop culture since his retirement from professional football in 2013 – whether that is through his marriage to Victoria Beckham, brand endorsements, or bizarre hairstyles.
However, his latest endeavour is proving to be one of the most controversial. On Monday, The Sun reported that Beckham had signed a ten-year deal worth £150 million to become an ambassador for the middle east nation of Qatar. This includes becoming the face of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the deal was later confirmed by Beckham’s spokespeople.
The 2022 Qatar World Cup has been controversial and divisive ever since it was confirmed to be hosted in the country in 2010. This is down to the selection process plagued with accusations of bribery and corruption, and the competition being an operational nightmare due to Qatar’s incredibly hot climate, meaning the final will take place just seven days before Christmas.
Additionally, Qatar’s record of human rights has – rightfully – been heavily scrutinised; reports emerged in 2018 of over 28,000 workers on World Cup venues being paid just 750 Qatari Riyal – less than £150 per month.
The nation is also known for heavily discriminating against LGBTQ+ people, with homosexuality potentially resulting in three years in prison. On the back of these well-known and documented issues with Qatar and the upcoming World Cup, what on earth is David Beckham doing endorsing it?
This isn’t the first time Beckham has worked with the Qatari Government; at the tail-end of his football career in 2013, he briefly played for French side Paris Saint-Germain, a club owned by the ‘Qatar Investment Authority’. It is easy to assume that he’s on friendly terms with the nation’s football authorities already.
But this still leaves us with the burning question: Why? Why is one of football’s most enduring icons selling himself out for one of the most unpopular sporting events in recent memory?
According to a spokeswoman for Beckham, he has “always talked about the power of football as a force for good” and “he will join the wider football community that is coming together for the World Cup 2022”.
Apparently, this “wider football community” excludes LGBTQ+ people and critics of the Qatari government (at least according to a 2014 law which means you can be jailed for three years for sharing “content that may harm the country”) – or at least that is what Beckham is implying by endorsing this immoral, unsettling competition.
To be fair to Qatar, they have made efforts in recent years to turn around their reputation and modernise some of their laws, including increasing the minimum wage to 1000 riyals a month (just under £200). But these changes have not turned around public opinion or optimism towards their World Cup next year.
Although Beckham’s spokespeople have cited these improvements as part of the reason he signed up to the deal, they don’t exonerate him from criticism.
Qatar’s motivations for signing up Beckham are obvious – he remains an international superstar (even to people who do not follow football), a well-liked figure and a seemingly never-aging fashion icon to slap on the front of promotional material.
According to reports, Beckham’s ten-year contract will extend to promoting tourism and culture in Qatar alongside football events, where he will undoubtedly brush past the country’s hostile attitude towards gay people and pitiful working conditions under the rug. This is all to make it appeal as the perfect holiday destination to take your kids if you want to deal with constant, unrelenting heat and the occasional pretty skyscraper. You definitely don’t get that in Britain!
In signing a deal with Qatar to promote them and their World Cup, David Beckham has hurt his reputation and shone an uncomfortable light on the reality of being a public figure.
The Qatar World Cup was seemingly awarded to the nation through acts of corruption and vote-buying, and the preparations for the competition have been plagued with accusations of poor pay, horrible work conditions and lax safety laws leading to the deaths of hundreds of migrant workers.
Qatar may be slowly becoming more liberal and improving workers’ rights, but this doesn’t clear them of what has been happening for years prior. Beckham’s endorsement of this competition – and of this country – is an implicit endorsement of Qatar’s actions, and a damning eye-opener on what public figures will do (or endorse) for money and good connections.
Image: Komers Real via flickr