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David Beckham has been warned by the branding industry that his lucrative role with Qatar will tarnish his status as one of the most marketable athletes in history.
The former England captain had already defended himself from criticism by human rights groups over his World Cup ambassadorial role, which is said to be worth £15 million a year.
Now branding experts have questioned the wisdom of the deal, saying the huge sums could be offset by other commercial ventures potentially declining in value as a result. His deal with Qatar comes after a year in which “David Beckham Ventures Limited”, the brand management firm owned with his wife, fell £3.5 million to £11.3 million in 2019. A further decline in profits had appeared highly likely due to Covid-19.
“From Beckham’s perspective, I would be very surprised if he would have leapt at the opportunity to act as Qatar’s ambassador were it not for the outrageous sum that is being offered to him,” said Marcel Knobil, founder of Superbrands and the Brand Council consultancy.
“As good as this is for Qatar, it’s equally as bad for Beckham, who is a magnificent figure to use to try and eclipse the negative perceptions that the country has earned.”
Beckham was part of the consortium that finalised a buyout at Inter Miami this summer. Meanwhile, Victoria Beckham Holdings, which manages the former Spice Girl’s fashion label, suffered losses of £16.6 million during 2019. However, Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at analytics firm GlobalData, warned “Brand Beckham” is potentially “under threat” as a result of his association with a Middle East nation criticised by LGBT+ and workers’ rights groups.
“While it can be argued that Beckham’s involvement will shed light on some of the perceived injustices, brands may look to distance themselves from any hint of controversy,” Wiacek said in a statement.
Sources close to the former player – who has been a Unicef goodwill ambassador since 2005 – insisted he was working with the nation because he believes in the “power of football to inspire positive change”.
Beckham has had close ties with key figures in Qatar since playing at Paris St-Germain. Earlier this month, he flew into the capital Doha for a week touring stadiums and meeting dignitaries ahead of next year’s tournament.
David Beckham forced to defend himself over signing £150m deal to promote Qatar
By Tom Morgan
David Beckham has defended himself from criticism by human rights groups over his lucrative ambassadorial role with the Qatar World Cup.
The former England captain came under attack from both LGBT+ and workers' rights campaigners after it was claimed he is making £15 million a year working with the nation.
"His decision to act as an ambassador for a homophobic regime like Qatar is a big blow," campaigner Peter Tatchell told Telegraph Sport, adding that Beckham had previously "supported our battle for equality when many others did not".
The End Sportswashing campaign group also reacted with dismay, saying Beckham should instead be "using his position to draw attention to Qatar's human rights record and treatment of it's migrant workers".
However, sources close to the former player - who has been a Unicef goodwill ambassador since 2005 - insisted he was working with the nation because he believes in the "power of football to inspire positive change".
Homosexuality remains illegal in Qatar, but organisers have been at pains to assure potential travellers that application of the law has become progressively more liberal.
Insiders said Beckham had also received assurances that fans will not be discriminated against when they travel to the tournament in a year's time. "Of course David wanted to ensure that he was informed about the facts and any concerns that he might have for his gay friends, football supporters and fans," one source close to Beckham told Telegraph Sport. "Some of the laws and beliefs in the region differ to his own but the Qataris have always said that everyone will be safe and welcome at the World Cup in 2022 and he believes that commitment is sincere and has seen evidence of proactive engagement with the international LBGTQ community by the World Cup organisers."
Beckham has had close ties with key figures in Qatar since his time playing at Paris St-Germain. Earlier this month, he flew into the capital Doha for a week touring stadiums and meeting dignitaries ahead of next year’s tournament.
"As the first tournament of its kind in the Muslim world, this World Cup will be so important to the region and its people and that’s about the power of football to inspire positive change," the source added.
The exact value of Beckham's deal with Qatar over the coming years is undisclosed but The Sun on Sunday newspaper estimated Beckham could eventually earn £150m over the next decade. However, Tatchell, also assessing Qatar's record on women's rights as well as workers, said the deal was "both surprising and distressing", given he is as "an icon for many LGBT+ people".
In August, Amnesty International had called on England players to take a leading role in pushing Fifa and Qatar to improve the rights of migrant workers. "As well as punishing homosexuality with imprisonment, Qatar also runs secret gay conversion programmes that seek to turn LGBT+ people straight," Tatchell added. "In addition, the regime treats women as second-class citizens. It requires them to get the permission of a male guardian to study, marry and travel. Migrant workers are housed in poor conditions, subject to onerous employment contacts and more than 6,500 have died since Qatar was granted the right to host the 2022 World Cup. David seems to be putting a money-making deal before human rights. This is damaging the Beckham brand. I hope he will think again."
Beckham is understood to have been told Qatar has previously acknowledged the need for improvements on labour rights, and it has made improvements. A spokeswoman for the former midfielder said. “David has been visiting Qatar regularly for over a decade and went on to play for PSG so he has seen the passion for football in the country and the long-term commitment that’s been made to hosting this World Cup and delivering a lasting legacy for the region. He’s always talked about the power of football as a force for good. As we reach the one-year-to-go point, he joins the wider football community that is coming together for the World Cup 2022 and he’s looking forward to what he thinks will be a great tournament.”
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said later in a statement: “It’s not surprising that David Beckham wants to be involved in such a major football event, but we would urge him to learn about the deeply concerning human rights situation in Qatar and be prepared to speak out about it.
“Qatar’s human rights record is troubling - from the country’s longstanding mistreatment of migrant workers, to its curbs on free speech and the criminalisation of same-sex relations.
“Qatar’s mistreatment of migrant workers - the people whose hard work is making the World Cup possible - is especially disturbing.
“Despite some welcome reforms, migrant workers are still being left unpaid, and the authorities have failed to investigate thousands of deaths in the past decade despite evidence of links between premature deaths and unsafe, searingly-hot working conditions.”