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Not so golden

Not so golden


For a reported £150m, David Beckham has agreed to become the face of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – and an ambassador for the country. It’s a move that might put his reputation at risk…

Claudia williams, narrating:

Hi, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, I’m handing back over to Chloe Beresford from our sister podcast, the Playmaker and today’s story is all about David Beckham and Qatar: has golden balls tarnished his reputation?


Chloe Beresford, Narrating:

A mere mention of his name and the memories start to flow. First, that moment 25 years ago when he scored from inside his own half.

“There’s a time for Manchester United… Beckham! That’s absolutely brilliant! Take a bow David Beckham!”

Sky Sports

Then there’s that last minute free-kick against Greece when he single handedly put England into the 2002 World Cup…

“We’ve played two and a half minutes of stoppage time. England trail by two goals to one. Beckham could raise the roof here with a goal. I don’t believe it! David Beckham scores the goal to take England all the way to the World Cup Finals!”

England Football Team

Not to mention the moment his Spice Girl wife Victoria appeared with him on Parkinson.

Victoria Beckham: “I call him golden balls. You know because now… Is that going to be one of those…”

Parkinson: “Goldenballs Beckham, eh? It’s a good ‘un that one isn’t it?”

Victoria: “That’s going be front pages. That’s one of those things I shouldn’t have said but..”

Victoria Beckham on Parkinson

Much to David Beckham’s embarrassment, the nickname really stuck – not least because virtually everything he touched turned to gold. As one of the most popular footballers of all time, he was paid millions by brands desperate for his endorsement. 

Not that he’s used his image just to make money.  He’s used it to raise the profile of UNICEF and charities such as Help for Heroes – and he once donated his entire salary to children’s charities in Paris when playing for PSG. 

He’s been awarded the OBE, he’s shared a platform with the Obamas and he helped London win the Olympic bid for 2012. His public persona has been fashioned with the greatest care.

Until now, that is.

For David Beckham has just signed a deal which is putting his reputation at risk. For a reported 150 million pounds, he has agreed to become the face of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and an ambassador for the country.

“The way people treat you, the way people greet you, erm, I think that that for me, is what I have noticed about spending time here in Doha. You know, obviously, myself having been part of PSG, you know, I’m good friends with Nasser, obviously I’ve grown to… to be friends with his Highness, and that’s the…and I think that for me, it’s what you want for a World Cup, you want to be able to arrive somewhere and feel happy!”

David Beckham, Beln Sports

That was Beckham speaking about the prospect of the Qatar World Cup back in 2019 and name-checking powerful Qataris while he was at it.  

Why should we be bothered?

Well, Qatar is controversial.  It’s run by an authoritarian regime and it’s associated with  numerous human rights abuses.

A Guardian investigation earlier this year found that at least 6,500 South Asian migrants had died during construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure. 

Some had suffered cardiac arrest due to the intense heat, while others suffered accidents.  It was reported that some had even been asphyxiated. Workers and their families have struggled to claim any kind of compensation. 

There are curbs on free speech and same-sex relationships are a crime.  

It’s no surprise, then, that Amnesty International have urged Beckham to educate himself on what life is like in Qatar.  They want him to use his profile to speak out on human rights.

But as an ambassador for the country, will Beckham be permitted to do so? And will the other brands that he endorses be willing to stick with him? He’s being accused of “sportswashing,” whereby his clean image is used to legitimise Qatar ahead of the World Cup. 

And if you were going to pick anyone in football to be a validating force, who better than David Beckham?

The rewards for him are obvious – but has he thought enough about the risks?  He’s spent more than 20 years building his image, his brand and a personal fortune put at three hundred and twenty five million pounds.

Should he take Amnesty’s advice and look further into what’s really happening in Qatar? 

And will he ask himself, is it really worth it?

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Studio Klong