Qatar paid David Beckham tens of millions of dollars to promote the country


Within the early days of the World Cup, with the group stage underway and the world’s eyes locked on Qatar, the host of soccer’s largest championship was wanting to benefit from the highlight shining on its tiny desert nation.

To promote itself to the world, Qatar had spent hundreds of thousands of {dollars} on celeb endorsements, together with agreements with a battalion of former soccer gamers who might converse to followers with avenue cred and in a standard language. Now, the time had come to roll out its largest signing, the one star in its arsenal in a league of his personal: David Beckham.

So throughout a midweek lunchtime, plans had been drawn up for Beckham and a number of other different ex-players to point out up at a fan zone arrange near Doha’s bayside Corniche. There, they’d greet followers and be interviewed by an worker of the organizing committee on a specifically constructed stage. Beckham’s group agreed to the request that he attend however set two circumstances: his presence was not be introduced forward of time, and reporters had been to not be alerted.

The occasion was a dud. The fan zone at Al Bidda Park was so abandoned on the organized time, actually, that the occasion was canceled, regardless that Beckham and the others had been already backstage, in response to a number of individuals conversant in the plans.

The curious incident, although, was emblematic of the weird relationship between Qatar and Beckham. It’s a partnership with a pitchman who not often pitches and an arrangement that has shadowed, moderately than showcased, the host nation. However it additionally has produced an odd actuality during which one of many world’s most recognizable celebrities is without delay all over the place but additionally nowhere.

Beckham’s face is plastered on billboards throughout Doha. He seems in commercials on tv throughout halftime breaks and in social media feeds selling a go to entry cultural occasions in Qatar. He additionally has been noticed within the V.V.I.P. stands at World Cup stadiums, and he was filmed visiting the England group earlier than its elimination.

What Beckham has not performed, not when he signed as much as signify Qatar nearly two years in the past at a reported value of greater than $150 million, not throughout the World Cup, is discuss why he agreed to change into an envoy or take any questions concerning the many controversies which have raged round Qatar’s internet hosting of the world’s most watched sports activities occasion. Qatar has been assailed over its human rights file, its legal guidelines criminalizing homosexuality and the remedy of migrant staff from a number of the poorest corners of the earth recruited to construct the World Cup. However Beckham seems to have been shielded from any danger of awkward questions.

In London, for instance, months earlier than the World Cup, event officers thought it will be a good suggestion to advertise the work of the feminine Qatari artist behind the event’s official posters at a particular occasion on the Design Museum. Beckham, they thought, might attend so as to add his stardust. As an alternative, they had been left annoyed when the constructive response got here with a caveat: Beckham was pleased to go, however there shouldn’t be any media current.

By then, Beckham’s reluctance to talk in boards exterior the rigorously managed areas his group must agree on was starting to draw consideration. Requests to talk with him or perceive his motivation to work for Qatar went unanswered. Uncommon feedback to FIFA TV or pleasant questioners linked to the World Cup and posts on his social media accounts had been parsed for which means, however in all of them he studiously averted the event’s hot-button subjects, together with the plight of migrant staff, Qatar’s human rights file and L.G.B.T.Q. issues.

A publicist for Beckham issued a press release on Friday to The New York Occasions, the primary on-the-record response after a number of earlier inquires, denying that he had been unavailable.

“David has been concerned in numerous World Cups and different main worldwide tournaments each as a participant and an envoy and he has at all times believed that sport has the ability to be a drive for good on the planet,” it stated.

“We perceive that there are totally different and strongly held views about engagement within the Center East however see it as constructive that debate about the important thing points has been stimulated straight by the primary World Cup being held within the area,” the assertion continued. “We hope that these conversations will result in higher understanding and empathy towards all individuals and that progress will probably be achieved.”

For some Qatari officers, although, Beckham’s reluctance to have interaction on their behalf, regardless of his contract to advertise Qatar, the nation, and never simply its World Cup, has been a trigger for concern for months. Of their view, Beckham, by not talking up and by avoiding questioning by the media, was wielding his affect in ways in which had been at instances counterproductive. For all of the hundreds of thousands of {dollars} he was incomes, the Qatari organizers felt, the scrutiny of their nation was simply changing into worse.

That exasperation solely grew earlier this yr.

One in all Beckham’s former Manchester United teammates, Gary Neville, was touring to Qatar to make a documentary on the World Cup for British tv, one that might contact on points reminiscent of Qatar’s human rights file. (Neville would later signal as much as work as a match and studio commentator for the nation’s multibillion-dollar sports activities community, beIN Sports activities.) As a part of his go to to Qatar, Neville had organized to interview Beckham individually for his present, the Overlap, which can be a podcast. Organizers thought that chance offered the most effective platform for Beckham to debate the controversies and his function with a sympathetic questioner who was additionally a good friend. However Beckham and his group balked on the concept, and when Neville’s interview was broadcast, Beckham’s unwillingness to speak about Qatar was famous as soon as once more.


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