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Monday, June 14, 2021

Inter Miami’s David Beckham and reported deal with Qatar a budding, avoidable controversy

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Greg Cote, Miami Herald, (TNS)

David Beckham unquestionably is the handsome, charismatic face of Inter Miami as the club prepares for its second season in Major League Soccer.

Is he now also the face — dubiously, controversially — of Qatar?

The Daily Mail newspaper in London reported Beckham has agreed to be the “media-friendly face” of that Middle Eastern country in its buildup to hosting the soccer World Cup in 2022. The report said the role would pay Beckham at least 10 million British pounds, or $13.85 million U.S.

In effect, that means Inter Miami’s club president and part owner has agreed to be the goodwill ambassador for the Persian Gulf state that is as notorious as it is wealthy.

The arrangement has not yet been publicized because, according to the Daily Mail, Qatar and Beckham, aware of the likely controversy, “are discussing a strategy to announce the deal.” A spokesperson for Beckham and Inter Miami said “His PR team has no comment” when asked by the Miami Herald to confirm the pending deal or otherwise comment.

If the report from London is true it would seem an odd partner for Beckham to climb into bed with. The former England football captain’s name is an international brand cultivated and manicured with care. Aligning with Qatar sounds an odd, dissonant chord.

The very fact Qatar is hosting the World Cup at all is enmeshed in controversy. It is a small nation of about 3 million and smaller in size than Connecticut, one with a minimal history in soccer and with a brutal summer climate. The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that massive bribery was involved in Qatar being named host by FIFA, the sport’s world governing body.

The international group Human Rights Watch also notes Qatar’s blemished record.

The group says migrant workers there, including those building the infrastructure for the World Cup, are subjected to “systematic abuse.”

Women in Qatar only recently were granted permission to drive. Single women under 30 may not check into a hotel alone.

Those in the LGBTQ are not welcome there. Same-sex relationships are outlawed and punishable in Qatar, where same-sex marriage and civil parternships are not recognized. A story in Forbes in 2019 named Qatar the second-most dangerous country for gay persons to visit, after only Nigeria.

There has been talk that Qatar might suspend or relax its anti-LGBTQ laws during the World Cup tournament, but the Qatari government has resisted.

That Beckham would align with a country where a gay couple faces one to three years in jail seems particularly jarring.

In 2007 Beckham called himself “very honored” to be identified as a gay icon. He and wife Victoria are very close friends with music star Elton John, who might be the biggest gay celebrity in the world. They have vacationed together. The Beckham kids refer to “Uncle Elton,” who is the godfather of son Romeo Beckham.

There is zero reason to believe Beckham’s financial support for Qatar means he is on board with any of that country’s human rights violations, although some will see his being paid by Qatar as tacit approval. It makes the partnership that much stranger.

But not surprising.

Beckham, 45, is a frequent visitor to Qatar and ended his playing career in 2013 with Qatar-owned French club Paris Saint-Germain. He is close friends with that club’s owner, Nasser-Al Khelaifi. In early 2020 there were reports of a $175 million sponsorship deal between Qatar and Inter Miami, but it didn’t happen.

The Beckham/Qatar deal, though reported by a reputable, major media outlet, is not yet confirmed or announced, so two things can happen in the meantime.

1. Beckham can say it ain’t so.

2. Beckham can use the partnership as an opportunity for good. He can extol the beauty of Qatar and say why he thinks it will make a wonderful World Cup host — while also speaking out in support of the simple human rights of migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community, everywhere … and especially in Qatar.

He can more than the ambassador for a soccer tournament. He can use his influence to help nudge Qatar into the 21st Century.

If his contract as World Cup ambassador muzzles him from speaking out, from being honest, he shouldn’t sign it.

The only thing involved in the decision is David Beckham’s good name.

(Greg Cote is a columnist for the Miami Herald.)

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