PETER KNIGHT: How greedy must ‘gay icon’ David Beckham be to sell out to deeply homophobic Qatar?
The football World Cup in Qatar this November promises moments of dazzling athletic grace and goals scored with balletic flair.
But no one has performed such back-breaking moral contortions in the run-up to the event as David Beckham.
‘Golden Balls’ has spent much of his career carefully cultivating his gay fanbase, trading on his good looks, filming salacious campaigns for Armani underwear and famously posing for the cover of the gay lifestyle magazine Attitude back in 2002.
He has boasted to the BBC: ‘I’m very honoured to have the tag of gay icon.’
Beckham’s latest stunt — propagandising for a deeply homophobic regime that locks up gay people simply for being who they are — is such a disgrace
And he is reported to have said: ‘I’m straight, I’m the England captain and I think it’s cool people are gay.’
Gay football fans like me have long admired him for speaking out in this way in our support — particularly in earlier eras when the stands could be some of most homophobic places in Britain.
Which is why I think that Beckham’s latest stunt — propagandising for a deeply homophobic regime that locks up gay people simply for being who they are — is such a disgrace.
In return for the proverbial suitcase, or possibly a series of suitcases, stuffed with Qatari riyals, Beckham has become an advert for that grim and oppressive regime.
This week, having been recently unveiled as the promotional ‘face’ of the Middle Eastern nation, the former footballer released a syrupy video extolling Qatar’s merits as a tourist destination, posing on a boat against the crystalline waters of the Gulf, moseying through a honey-hued spice market and strolling in the sunshine. (Temperatures in the desert state can reach a balmy 48c.)
Beckham enjoyed a burgeoning friendship with Elton John, who once owned Watford Football Club and who has heard every homophobic insult going, courtesy of the more knuckle-dragging visiting fans
Beckham gushed about the country’s tourist potential. ‘Qatar really is an incredible place to spend a few days on a stopover… this will go down as one of my favourite mornings. This is perfection. I cannot wait to bring my children back.’
Needless to say, Beckham never deviated from this toe-curling script, nor questioned any of his smiling Qatari hosts about their country’s less-than-unblemished human rights record, or repeated his supposed claim that ‘I think it’s cool people are gay’.
But the fact is that a Muslim caught having gay sex in Qatar (at least in theory, for there hasn’t been a reported case) faces flogging and even the death penalty by firing squad. This makes Qatar one of only five countries in the world that places homosexuality as a capital crime on the statute books. Non-Muslims can expect three years in a roasting desert prison for the ‘crime’.
Beckham, with his armies of advisers and PR experts, surely knows all this. Perhaps that’s why he strangely neglected to promote his oleaginous promotional video to his 75 million Instagram followers this week. And no wonder that, as a source told the Daily Mail yesterday, his team had hoped they could release the film ‘quietly when no one would notice’.
Not so lucky, David.
The contract is said to be worth £10 million: a trivial sum to him, with his reputed £400 million fortune. In having to spout guff like that, though, he’s certainly earning it
The contract is said to be worth £10 million: a trivial sum to him, with his reputed £400 million fortune. In having to spout guff like that, though, he’s certainly earning it.
I’ve loved the beautiful game my whole life. I’ve played for London Titans FC, one of Britain’s biggest LGBT clubs, for 14 years. This summer we reached the final of the 11‑a-side contest at the LGBT EuroGames in the Netherlands, which hosts more than 2,000 competitors in everything from badminton to ballroom dancing. We proudly came home clutching silver medals. As a teenager growing up in Portsmouth, I pinned a picture of a shirtless Beckham, from GQ magazine, to my bedroom wall alongside posters of the girls from pop band S Club 7, in the desperate hope that the bikini-clad women would see off any questions about my sexuality.
Beckham was an icon: not only for the unerring accuracy with which his right boot would curl a cross on to a striker’s forehead or into the corner of the goal from a free kick, but for the taboos he broke off the pitch. Proudly ‘metrosexual’ as a young man — and often mocked in the stands and sections of the media for it — he was brave enough to sport a sarong, nail varnish and lipgloss. This was unheard of for any football star, let alone for a doyen of the Premier League.
He enjoyed a burgeoning friendship with Elton John, who once owned Watford Football Club and who has heard every homophobic insult going, courtesy of the more knuckle-dragging visiting fans.
In return for the proverbial suitcase, or possibly a series of suitcases, stuffed with Qatari riyals, Beckham has become an advert for that grim and oppressive regime
Over the years, in part thanks to his efforts, I watched the game gradually shift in its acceptance of gay players — beginning with the terrible tale of Justin Fashanu, the first UK footballer to come out in 1990, who killed himself eight years later.
Even as Britain embraced civil partnerships in 2004, followed by gay marriage in 2013, and even though in most fields it became far easier to be ‘out’ than it had been a generation ago, football still clung to its entrenched homophobia.
In recent years, however, things had finally started to change. Blackpool forward Jake Daniels made history in May when, at just 17, he told Sky he was gay, saying: ‘Now is the time. I am ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all . . . It’s been a long time I’ve been living with the lie.’
It shouldn’t have been a culture-shifting event; but in the world of football, it was.
No fewer than seven of England’s triumphant 23-woman squad of Lionnesses are gay, including Beth Mead, winner of the Euro 2022 tournament’s Golden Boot after scoring six magnificent goals.
Meanwhile, Leeds defender Luke Ayling appeared at the city’s Pride march last month: the first player known to have done so at any such event.
So the game is visibly changing: the tectonic plates of prejudice are being prised apart.
Attitude magazine — which had proudly put Beckham on its cover — has been equally hostile, accusing him of ‘performative allyship’ and saying: ‘David Beckham continues to keep his money just about as far as possible from where his mouth is when it comes to the LGBTQ community’
Which is why Beckham’s behaviour is so enraging. Amnesty International has delivered its withering verdict, castigating him for making ‘no mention at all of Qatar’s long history of labour abuses, its shocking criminalisation of homosexuality or in fact any other human rights issue’.
Attitude magazine — which had proudly put Beckham on its cover — has been equally hostile, accusing him of ‘performative allyship’ and saying: ‘David Beckham continues to keep his money just about as far as possible from where his mouth is when it comes to the LGBTQ community.’
Quite right. If Beckham wants to sell himself to the highest bidder — ethics be damned — so be it. But if he wants to continue to cash in on his status as a gay icon, and be seen as a liberal trailblazer in the sport, then he needs to cut his ties with a filthy regime that executes and imprisons people simply for who they love.
Beckham has signed a Faustian bargain with a Middle Eastern state with medieval values. Golden Balls should have had the cojones to say no.