David Beckham defends his controversial £10m Qatar World Cup deal, insisting ‘engagement is the only way of making change’ after he faced criticism for promoting the country due to its poor human rights record and anti-gay laws
- David Beckham has defended his role as an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup
- The former England star was accused of promoting Qatar despite its issues
- Qatar has a poor human rights record, and continues to ban homosexuality
David Beckham has defended his controversial role as ambassador for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, believing that ‘engagement is the only way of making change’.
Beckham, 48, was paid £10m to endorse the global showcase, but came under significant criticism for his decision.
Qatar bans same-sex relations, has a poor human rights record, and faced repeated allegations of the way they mistreated the migrant workers who built the stadiums and facilities used by the FIFA event.
During the tournament, Beckham was happy to talk up the football and the fan atmosphere – but frustrated organisers by not vocally aligning himself with Qatar’s values.
Beckham was accused of trying to lessen the publicity around his involvement in promotional events in Qatar, despite receiving $150m (£117m) for his ambassadorial work for the country, including £10m for the World Cup specifically.
David Beckham has defended his controversial role as ambassador for the Qatar World Cup
The former England great said ‘engagement’ was required to change Qatar’s noted problems
In an interview with The Athletic, Beckham said: ‘Anything I go into, I do every kind of check to make sure it is the right thing for me, is the right thing for my business and is the right thing morally.’
His links to the nation started when he joined PSG back in 2013, with the French club helmed by Qatari owners – and the country were keen to get his involvement.
Beckham said: ‘I wanted to be involved in the World Cup because I’ve always said this game can change lives, can change people’s perceptions, and when you bring a World Cup into any country, it shines a huge spotlight on issues.
‘I saw that as an opportunity. Firstly, to be involved in another World Cup. Secondly, Qatar is a relatively young country, it’s on a journey and there’s change. What comes with hosting a World Cup brings change.’
Beckham’s status as a gay icon seemed at odds with representing a country where homosexuality is still outlawed. But the Man United and England great stressed he was ‘comfortable with the decision’, and hoped to instigate change in Qatar.
‘The Qataris said from day one, “Everybody is welcome”. I came away after the final thinking, “This is possibly one of the safest World Cups I’ve been to”,’ Beckham said.
‘I spoke to people from the LGBTQ community. I was comfortable with the decision I made to get involved because I always feel that to make change you have to communicate, you have to engage.
‘There was a huge amount of work done in Qatar to make sure people felt comfortable and were welcomed at this World Cup.
‘I know there’s a lot of work – a lot of good work – being done to make change and engagement is the only way of making change.’
He revealed a friend was happy to let their teenage kids go into a game unaccompanied due to a ticket mix-up, but that their safety was reassured.
Detractors felt that Beckham should have spoken up during the tournament about the issues, but the former midfielder argued he wanted the football and the atmosphere to ‘speak for itself’.
Some detractors questioned why Beckham did not speak up on problems during the event
Beckham added: ‘I also didn’t want to come out and be the person who is fuelling the fire. I felt, “I’m going to talk at the right time”. People know my stance on different issues around the world and the people closest to me know that.
‘So I don’t need to fuel any person that wants to come out and criticise me because I felt the right thing to do is stay quiet and answer anything I need to answer when I’m ready.’
Beckham’s involvement was criticised by comedian Joe Lycett, and former Man United colleague Eric Cantona, who said: ‘You have to ask him why he did it. Maybe he has a good argument, but I can’t see one.’
Beckham conducted his interview with The Athletic to promote MLS side Inter Miami, which he co-owns with a group of investors.