David Beckham has made his first public statement about his controversial involvement with World Cup host country Qatar, telling a US newspaper through a spokesperson that he “has always believed that sport had the power to be a force for good in the world”.
“We understand that there are different and entrenched views on engagement in the Middle East, but we consider it positive that debate on key issues has been stimulated directly by the first world Cup detained in the area,” the statement continued.
He added: “We hope these conversations will lead to greater understanding and empathy for all people and that progress will be made.”
The statement, made in the New York Times, came in response to intense criticism that Beckham, 47, had accepted millions of pounds from Qatar to serve as an ambassador for the games despite the country’s repressive stance on LGBTQ+ rights, its human rights record and the allegations of mistreatment of migrant workers.
Mentions of the former England captain for the host country included a promotional film for Visit Qatar. “The blend of modern and traditional to create something really special,” he said. In a sequel video messagehe said the World Cup would be a platform for progress, inclusiveness and tolerance.
The endorsements have received scathing reviews, particularly from members of the LGBTQ+ community, who say Beckham’s support for Qatar runs counter to his image as a gay rights advocate.
“Some of the things people like David Beckham learn is that human rights are universal and non-negotiable,” said Piara Powar, director of Fare, an anti-discrimination group. told the Observer last month. “I have no doubt that the LGBTQ+ community in Western Europe will somehow see him as a traitor or someone who used to be an ally but isn’t anymore.”
Beckham’s statement came against the backdrop of a Times article which sought to unpack the footballer’s relative absence from matches, despite his image plastered all over Doha.
The newspaper claimed that the famous player had imposed conditions on his public appearances in Qatar, including that his attendance would not be announced in advance, that alerts would not be sent to reporters and that Beckham appeared to be safe questions.
But a publicist for the player denied he was unavailable. “David has been involved in a number of World Cups and other major international tournaments as a player and an ambassador and has always believed that sport has the power to be a force for good in the world,” says the press release.
The statement is notable for its omission: nowhere is Qatar mentioned. This could further irritate Qatari officials, who are said to be frustrated that Beckham avoided questions and did not speak out for the country he is charged with promoting – a situation that has become “counterproductive” for Qatar.
“For all the millions of dollars he was earning, Qatari organizers felt their country’s scrutiny was only getting worse,” the newspaper wrote.