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David Beckham Is the World Cup’s Missing Mouthpiece

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DOHA, Qatar — Within the early days of the World Cup, with the group stage underway and the world’s eyes locked on Qatar, the host of soccer’s biggest championship was wanting to reap the benefits of the highlight shining on its tiny desert nation.

To sell itself to the world, Qatar had spent thousands and thousands of dollars on celebrity endorsements, including agreements with a battalion of former soccer players who could speak to fans with street cred and in a typical language. Now, the time had come to roll out its biggest signing, the one star in its arsenal in a league of his own: David Beckham.

So during a midweek lunchtime, plans were drawn up for Beckham and a number of other other ex-players to indicate up at a fan zone arrange near Doha’s bayside Corniche. There, they might greet fans and be interviewed by an worker of the organizing committee on a specially built stage. Beckham’s team agreed to the request that he attend but set two conditions: his presence was not be announced ahead of time, and reporters weren’t to be alerted.

The event was a dud. The fan zone at Al Bidda Park was so deserted on the arranged time, actually, that the event was canceled, though Beckham and the others were already backstage, in line with multiple people aware of the plans.

The curious incident, though, was emblematic of the weird relationship between Qatar and Beckham. It’s a partnership with a pitchman who rarely pitches and an arrangement that has shadowed, fairly than showcased, the host country. But it surely also has produced a wierd reality through which one in every of the world’s most recognizable celebrities is directly in all places but in addition nowhere.

Beckham’s face is plastered on billboards throughout Doha. He appears in advertisements on television during halftime breaks and in social media feeds promoting a pass to access cultural events in Qatar. He also has been spotted within the V.V.I.P. stands at World Cup stadiums, and he was filmed visiting the England team before its elimination.

A Transient Guide to the 2022 World Cup

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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the perfect national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:

Where is it being held? This 12 months’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat america and Japan to win the proper to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.

When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games can be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.

Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup normally takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar may need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.

What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified routinely because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the proper to return and play. Meet the teams here.

How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.

How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament can be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You may livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s how one can watch every match.

When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Recent York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Meaning there can be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of america for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.

Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.

What Beckham has not done, not when he signed as much as represent Qatar almost two years ago at a reported cost of greater than $150 million, not through the World Cup, is discuss why he agreed to turn out to be an envoy or take any questions on the various controversies which have raged around Qatar’s hosting of the world’s most watched sports event. Qatar has been assailed over its human rights record, its laws criminalizing homosexuality and the treatment of migrant employees from a few of the poorest corners of the earth recruited to construct the World Cup. But Beckham appears to have been shielded from any risk of awkward questions.

In London, for instance, months before the World Cup, tournament officials thought it could be idea to advertise the work of the feminine Qatari artist behind the tournament’s official posters at a special event on the Design Museum. Beckham, they thought, could attend so as to add his stardust. As a substitute, they were left frustrated when the positive response got here with a caveat: Beckham was joyful to go, but there mustn’t be any media present.

By then, Beckham’s reluctance to talk in forums outside the rigorously controlled spaces his team would should agree on was starting to draw attention. Requests to talk with him or understand his motivation to work for Qatar went unanswered. Rare comments to FIFA TV or friendly questioners connected to the World Cup and posts on his social media accounts were parsed for meaning, but in all of them he studiously avoided the tournament’s hot-button topics, including the plight of migrant employees, Qatar’s human rights record and L.G.B.T.Q. concerns.

A publicist for Beckham issued a press release on Friday to The Recent York Times, the primary on-the-record response after several previous inquires, denying that he had been unavailable.

“David has been involved in a lot of World Cups and other major international tournaments each as a player and an envoy and he has at all times believed that sport has the facility to be a force for good on the planet,” it said.

“We understand that there are different and strongly held views about engagement within the Middle East but see it as positive that debate concerning the key issues has been stimulated directly by the primary World Cup being held within the region,” the statement continued. “We hope that these conversations will result in greater understanding and empathy toward all people and that progress can be achieved.”

For some Qatari officials, though, Beckham’s reluctance to have interaction on their behalf, despite his contract to advertise Qatar, the country, and never just its World Cup, has been a cause for concern for months. Of their view, Beckham, by not speaking up and by avoiding questioning by the media, was wielding his influence in ways in which were at times counterproductive. For all of the thousands and thousands of dollars he was earning, the Qatari organizers felt, the scrutiny of their country was just becoming worse.

That exasperation only grew earlier this 12 months.

One among Beckham’s former Manchester United teammates, Gary Neville, was traveling to Qatar to make a documentary on the World Cup for British television, one that may touch on issues equivalent to Qatar’s human rights record. (Neville would later join to work as a match and studio commentator for the country’s multibillion-dollar sports network, beIN Sports.) As a part of his visit to Qatar, Neville had arranged to interview Beckham individually for his show, the Overlap, which can also be a podcast. Organizers thought that chance presented the perfect platform for Beckham to debate the controversies and his role with a sympathetic questioner who was also a friend. But Beckham and his team balked at the concept, and when Neville’s interview was broadcast, Beckham’s unwillingness to discuss Qatar was noted once more.

Beckham’s special status has also riled several individuals among the many galaxy of former stars hired as ambassadors to advertise Qatar, a bunch that features Cafu, a former World Cup-winning captain with Brazil, and Xavi, a World Cup winner with Spain and the present coach at Barcelona.

The staggering fee paid to Beckham, in line with individuals with direct knowledge of the players’ payment contractual arrangements, created tensions when deals with other stars were being finalized. Several have been irritated by what they perceive have been other signs of special treatment.

At one pre-World Cup event held at one in every of the tournament’s eight stadiums, for instance, Qatar’s pitchmen were called to record content for one in every of its signature campaigns. Different stations were arrange within the venue’s news-conference room, in line with people present, for shoots with different celebrities. The players invited included Javier Mascherano, a former Argentina defender, the previous Germany captain Lothar Matthäus and the favored former Iran player Mehdi Mahdavikia.

The arrival of Beckham and his entourage, though, was greeted as something akin to a royal visit. All but essentially the most essential staff were cleared from the room and asked to attend in a corridor. “I assumed the emir was coming,” one official said.

In the course of the World Cup, his special status has been evident. Beckham, who left halfway through the tournament before returning to Qatar for the closing stages, has been supplied with more lavish accommodations than other players; he stays on the Mandarin Oriental hotel, while the others have been staying in apartment-style rooms at a Hilton on the opposite side of the town. Most of his engagements have been on an exclusive basis, without having to share a platform, a situation that left one former player to ask, “What number of World Cups Beckham has won?” The reply, he and the opposite stars knew, was none.

The cash has not come and not using a cost. Beckham’s relationship with Qatar has damaged his fame in Britain, particularly throughout the gay community, which until his reported $150 million agreement had seen the previous soccer player as a champion of L.G.B.T.Q. rights and an icon for related causes.

Last month, Joe Lycett, a British comedian, made headlines by appearing to shred 10,000 British kilos (about $12,000) after issuing Beckham with an ultimatum that he would achieve this unless he canceled his agreement with Qatar. A day later, Lycett revealed that the destruction of the cash had been a stunt and that the cash had as a substitute been donated to L.G.B.T.Q. charities.

On Thursday, Lycett read out in full the identical statement that Beckham’s team later provided to The Times about his endorsement of Qatar. He then also spoke with a person named Naser Mohamed, a physician who claims to be the primary and only openly gay Qatari.

Mohamed said he tagged Beckham’s Instagram account in a post concerning the dangers facing homosexuals in Qatar after which was promptly blocked by the account.

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