Proud 'Gay Icon' David Beckham Becomes Ambassador for Anti-LGBTQ Qatar

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday February 12, 2021
Originally published on February 11, 2021

Former England football captain David Beckham signed a hefty deal to be media ambassador for anti-LGBTQ Qatar in the run up to the country's hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Daily Mail reports.

Beckham, who is estimated to be worth £360 million, approximately $500 million U.S., is reported to have been offered £10 million, the U.S. equivalent of $17.8 million, to help put a positive spin on Qatar's discriminatory image. In Qatar, same-sex marriage isn't recognized and homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment. Sexual activity outside of marriage is punishable by seven years in jail.

As someone who is "very honored to have the tag of gay icon," news of Beckham's affiliation with Qatar is perplexing. Of course, there are questions about if — and how — Beckham could impact even marginal positive change for LGBTQ people, especially those living in oppressive Qatar. There is speculation about how Beckham plans to announce his partnership with Qatar and if he can weather the backlash.

The handling of homophobic Qatar as host for 2022 FIFA World Cup hasn't been particularly smooth. In 2010, when then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter addressed the situation, he cautioned that gay fans should "refrain from sexual activity" — or more directly: pass as straight and don't disrupt the heteronormative apple cart — only to issue an apology shortly thereafter, saying "it was not my intention" to perpetuate oppressive of non-heterosexual cisgender people.

In 2014, a Qatari sports minister commented on whether openly gay fans would be welcome and safe in the country, saying, "It's exactly like the alcohol question. We are studying all these issues. We can adapt, we can be creative to have people coming and enjoying the games without losing the essence of our culture and respecting the preference of the people coming here."

In 2019, Nasser al-Khater, chief executive for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, said, "Any fan of any gender, [sexual] orientation, religion, race [should] rest assured that Qatar is one of the most safe countries in the world, and they'll all be welcome here. (But) public displays of affection are frowned upon, it's not part of our culture — but that goes across the board to everybody." Absent in this statement is the threat of imprisonment same-sex couples face that heterosexual folks do not.

On a related note, in 2018 it came to light that Qatar had been suppressing LGBTQ-related content in the media. Specifically, Qatari printings of The New York Times were stripped of stories on issues impacting the LGBTQ community and noticeable empty spaces where those news items would be.

After receiving international attention, the Government Communications Office for the State of Qatar issued a statement pinning the blame on a local distributor, saying "The New York Times International is printed by a local distributer in Doha. The government will examine the issues around the local distributor and take corrective action if needed. Qatar is a welcoming and hospitable country. We view the 2022 World Cup as a precious opportunity to bridge cultural divides and to serve as a unique platform for bringing people together. We look forward to people from all over the globe converging on Qatari soil — of different ethnicities, languages, religions, and cultures — uniting through a shared passion for football."

FIFA responded at the time by saying it would continue to monitor and assess the situation. Qatar is still set to host the 2022 World Cup.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.