Is it finally curtains for football’s golden boy, David Beckham? The man who could hitherto do no wrong; whose general demeanour is sugary sweet but also achingly bland – whose personality is the exact same as a puppy’s: one you have to scold because it’s nicked one of your slippers and won’t let it go, but you don’t care because it’s so fricking adorable.
That’s Beckham – the man who loves his wife, Victoria Beckham, so much that he constantly posts cute little vignettes of their lives behind the scenes on Instagram, and somehow, impossibly, makes them seem normal (away from the catwalks and fashion shows and make-up brands and – you know, average Friday night family dinners at Nobu – and hanging out with A-listers and casually living in what amounts to a Disney palace).
He’s not just proved himself a legend of football but he’s a family man, Beckham – the guy who posts videos with the title, “Captured by Mrs Incredible @victoriabeckham”; the man who’s always been defiant about kissing his kids, about hugging them at the school gate, and you know they find him embarrassing but Beckham doesn’t get embarrassed; he can’t – have you ever seen the Andrex puppy get embarrassed? No, and it is Beckham’s spiritual interspecies doppelgänger. I mean: the man even posts about how much he loves his dogs. Of course he does.
Beckham is, by now, probably quite used to being universally beloved – I remember when I lived for a brief stint in Japan and every single British man was greeted with delightful calls of “Beckham-u” – even if they bore more of a passing resemblance to… well, Bill Oddie. Revered, respected, shut-the-front-door handsome: David Beckham’s star, it seemed, simply could not fizzle or falter. Until now.
Things have taken a disappointing turn, with unwelcome news that the human golden retriever of our hearts – our national labrador, David Beckham – is a paid ambassador for Qatar in a rumoured £10m deal for the World Cup, which began this weekend. Qatar, lest we forget, is a country where homosexuality is illegal; where same-sex relationships are criminalised by prison sentences of up to three years plus a hefty fine; where the maximum possible penalty for Muslims is death by stoning.
A representative from the England LGBT+ fans’ group Three Lions Pride (whose members have decided not to attend the World Cup finals later this month due to fears their presence could make the local queer community more vulnerable) said: “We’re just so disappointed because the LGBTQ+ community has had David Beckham on a pedestal as a great ally, and then it turns out he’s an ambassador for this World Cup and that’s incredibly disappointing. So I hope the message has got through that people will be criticised for that.”
Comedian Joe Lycett, who famously pledged ironic and mocking support for Liz Truss (earning him a front page in the Daily Mail) issued a challenge to Beckham: pull out of his World Cup deal or he (Lycett) would shred £10,000 of his own money on live TV; which he did (except, of course, he didn’t. Lycett is no monster).
In an Instagram video shared last week, before the denouement yesterday, Lycett sat at a desk with £10,000 in cash in front of him, and said: “This is a message to David Beckham. I consider you, along with Kim Woodburn and Monty Don, to be a gay icon. You’re the first premiership footballer to do shoots with gay magazines like Attitude, to speak openly about your gay fans, and you married a Spice Girl, which is the gayest thing a human being can do.
“But now it’s 2022. And you signed a reported £10m deal with Qatar to be their ambassador during the Fifa World Cup. Qatar was voted as one of the worst places in the world to be gay. Homosexuality is illegal, punishable by imprisonment and, if you’re Muslim, possibly even death.”
He added: “If you end your relationship with Qatar, I’ll donate this £10,000 of my own money, as a grand for every million you’re reportedly getting, to charities that support queer people in football. However, if you do not, by midday next Sunday [20 November] I will throw this money into a shredder just before the opening ceremony of the World Cup and stream it live on a website I’ve registered called benderslikebeckham.com.” We then all witnessed him seeming to do so.
It has also emerged that Rod Stewart – another national treasure – turned down more than $1m to play in the country 15 months ago, declaring it “not right”.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
All the more pressure on Beckham, then, to show us what he’s made of; to take back his status as everyone’s best friend; to use his (previously unwavering) popularity as a force for good.
Because that’s what being a national hero is, or should be: it is putting on the Batman costume of goodwill and it is taking a stand against evil and it is saying no to a country like Qatar, which – when it comes to human rights – is more likely to drown a puppy than to goodnaturedly give it a slipper.
It isn’t funny or cute. It’s dangerous and it’s outrageous and we should condemn regimes that perpetuate discrimination and persecution in the strongest terms possible. And this is where David Beckham needs to seriously rethink his influence.
Because it’s not just his reputation at stake, but people’s actual lives. And you can’t just roll over and show us your belly and think it doesn’t matter. It matters. Even (and especially) if you are David Beckham.