The world’s most adored football celebrity David Beckham is copping it left, right and centre for selling his soul to Qatar on the eve of the FIFA World Cup.
Australia’s Tim Cahill is drinking from the same well and there is barely a peep of disapproval.
Double standards much?
From the moment Beckham’s ad campaign extolling the virtues of Qatar as an exotic, exciting and welcoming place to visit – going so far as to call the country ‘perfection’ – launched, the roars of outrage have been deafening.
First to take a swing at the Manchester United and England legend was Amnesty International.
The organisation’s UK spokesman Felix Jakens said Beckham’s highly-paid support of Qatar was nothing more than ‘sportswashing’ of the regime’s appalling human rights record, with a study by international advocacy group Fair Square estimating 6500 migrant workers died during construction of World Cup infrastructure (the Qatari government puts the death toll at three).
Tim Cahill has been more involved with Qatar than David Beckham, but has got off almost completely scot-free when it comes to being criticised for his association with the country
Meanwhile, the Manchester United great (pictured promoting Qatar in his role as official ambassador for the World Cup) has been taken down mercilessly for his involvement
‘Beckham’s global fame and status are PR gold for Qatar’s image but he should be using that same unique profile to call on FIFA and the Qatari authorities to properly remedy the terrible abuses that tens of thousands of migrant workers have faced in building the infrastructure to deliver the World Cup,’ he said.
More recently the assault has come from the LGBTQ+ community, with British comedian Joe Lycett posting an attack on social media in which he says Beckham’s ‘status as a gay icon will be shredded’ unless he backs out of his partnership with the country where homosexuality is illegal and ‘punishable by imprisonment and, if you’re Muslim, possibly even death’.
The post has been viewed more than three million times.
With Qatar paying Beckham as much as $250million depending on which report you believe, the Manchester United great probably isn’t too concerned about the criticism, but until the tournament actually kicks off this weekend, Becks-bashing remains the main sport of choice for the legions of international media packed into the capital Doha.
Cahill (right) is pictured at the final draw for the 2022 World Cup with Idris Elba (second from left). He is the Chief Sports Officer of the country’s Aspire Academy
Beckham (pictured at a November 2021 event to mark the fact the World Cup was a year away) has been savaged by football fans for taking money from a country that has abused migrant workers and made homosexuality illegal
And while journalists and TV producers have been critical, the keyboard warriors have been brutal.
A selection from the twitterati:
‘Really sad to see David Beckham advertising his newly found anti-gay and worker killing friends. A man whose principles can be bought is no role model for children.’
‘Shame on you Becks. Anything for a buck huh.’
‘I promise to petition the King to ban David Beckham from ever being knighted if he does not withdraw his support.’
Meanwhile, Australia’s most successful international player, Tim Cahill – who has gone down the same path as Beckham – is getting off virtually scot-free.
Cahill has been living fulltime in Qatar (where he is pictured at training with the Socceroos this week) for more than a year and is also a ‘Global Qatar Legacy Ambassador’ for the World Cup
Unlike Beckham, whose involvement with Qatar has mainly consisted of a week of filming in the desert, some voice-over work in a London studio and a couple of FIFO photo-ops, Cahill has gone all-in.
For over a year he and his family have been living full-time in Doha after he took up the role of Chief Sports Officer of Aspire Academy, described on his online profile as ‘a world-class sports academy that is responsible for scouting and developing Qatari athletes across all sports.
‘Tim’s role involves overseeing the entire academy as well as developing partnerships and relationships with other organisations across the world.’
He has also coached the Qatar under-16 and under-19 national teams.
And while no-one can question Cahill’s right to earn a living as a sports administrator or coach anywhere in the world, what has raised some eyebrows is his appointment as a ‘Global Qatar Legacy Ambassador’ for the World Cup.
Not that the waves of opposition have been tsunami-like in their intensity. More of a ripple, in fact.
Incredibly, in an environment in which Australian sporting icon Greg Norman has been pilloried by the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy for his involvement in the Saudi-backed LIV golf and the Australian cricket, and netball teams can voice disapproval over the choice of sponsors who pay their wages, Tim Cahill seems to be a protected species.
And why not, some might say, given the unparalleled service he gave the Socceroos over 15 years in which he played 105 internationals and scored a record 50 goals, including five at four World Cups.
The former Premier League star (pictured after scoring for Australia in 2015) believes his role with Qatar is helping bring about ‘a really good change’ in the country
He has been equally successful off-field, building up a lucrative portfolio of long-term business partnerships and even producing a series of children’s books featuring the character ‘Little Timmy’, covering such themes as health, education and overcoming adversity.
Of course, much the same could be said of Beckham, but it hasn’t afforded him the same latitude given to Cahill by his countrymen when it comes to his affiliation with the Qatari regime.
Even gay A-League footballer Josh Cavallo, who made a pointed dig at Beckham when accepting his Man of the Year award presented by LGBTQ+ magazine Attitude in London last month, has steered clear of targeting Cahill.
Which is somewhat surprising, given the strength of Cavallo’s acceptance speech.
‘Qatar, FIFA, the world is watching you. Do you see us?’ the Adelaide United player said. ‘I vow to stand up for the LGBTQ athletes and fans at the World Cup.’
He ended his speech by raising the trophy and exclaiming, ‘Take that, David Beckham.’
With Cavallo and others in the Australian football community staying in the backfield regarding Cahill, it has been left to former Socceroo Robbie Slater to take the ball up.
Aussie soccer star Josh Cavallo – who made history when he came out as gay – tore into Beckham for supporting a country that is plainly anti-LGBTQ, but has been silent when it comes to Cahill… and he’s far from alone there
Socceroos great Robbie Slater is the only high-profile voice to have taken Cahill to task over his involvement with Qatar, saying: ‘I think this is a poor choice’
Speaking on a Fox Sports podcast Slater, who played 44 times for his country, said he felt ‘uneasy’ about Cahill’s appointment as a World Cup ambassador in February 2020.
‘We all love Timmy, of course, he’s our greatest Socceroo, but I don’t agree that he should be doing it,’ he said.
‘I’m not a left-wing activist who is going to go out there and protest, but I think this is a poor choice.’
Slater said his opinion was influenced by first-hand knowledge of working conditions in Middle Eastern countries.
‘I’ve been to these countries and I remember being in Dubai when they were building the biggest stadium ever,’ he said.
‘We would come out of the hotel to go to Socceroos training and I remember seeing busloads of labourers, all in the same overalls and orange jumpsuits sitting in the gutters with their heads down looking very, very unhappy.
‘You talk about slave labour and I’m no politician, but it left me feeling uneasy, as does Tim’s involvement. I just think it’s unnecessary and a poor choice.’
While Slater’s criticism was something of a lone voice – local media reports of Cahill’s involvement with Aspire Academy and the World Cup being laudatory rather than accusing – it did prompt a response.
Speaking on Channel 9 News, Cahill said that he was comfortable with his decision to become immersed in Qatar and its World Cup.
‘I’m 40 years old now. I’ve got a lot of experience in understanding people’s thoughts and understanding that you make decisions that are right for you and your future,’ he said.
It’s hard to argue with Cahill (pictured after his last game for Australia) being branded the greatest Socceroo ever – but his association with the Middle Eastern country could be a rare own goal by the legend
‘I have a massive influence now working with FIFA and Qatar. Stadiums getting built, we get to help with the production of that. We get to help to make sure the sustainability programs afterwards of the products they put in there are right.
‘We get to work on programs like worker’s welfare – 30,000 workers, how they live, the certificates; things that they need, their pay.’
Cahill said he was unfazed by any criticism.
‘I think it’s fair whatever perception they have of me,’ he said. ‘It’s not about being worried, but them understanding my role.
‘I’m one of four global ambassadors. We’re making a really good change for good with education programs.
‘I’m happy to answer the hard questions and be in the front line of an influential competition in the world where people look at me now as a voice globally for one of the biggest sports on earth.’
Which critics of Qatar’s record on human rights, treatment of women and the gay community and freedom of the press might say sounds like something you would read in a Little Timmy book.