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a cloack-work, see-through black

  • dan 

a sort of farce, understated

Qatar owns or holds a majority share in a vast amount of property around the world. In London, it includes Canary Wharf, The Shard, Heathrow Airport, Harrods, Sainsbury’s, and…the Olympic Village (which was apparently sold out to Qatar even before the 2012 Games began). Think underpaid workers who built the Olympic Village, and sport aficionados’ taxpayer’s money that bankrolled it. Think an athlete, a gold-medal winner from Ukraine wearing a t-shirt with not-in-my-name on it – on the podium.

Paris St Germain is owned by a Qatari wealth fund – ultimately run by the Qatari royal family. Messi plays for Paris St Germain. At the World Cup closing ceremony, Sheikh Al-Thani placed a bisht on Messi’s shoulder, who then accepted the World Cup trophy from a rather pleased-looking Infantino.

A bisht is a sort of long coat, mainly worn in the Persian Gulf area by top officials, in special occasions. Putting a bisht on someone’s shoulders is a sign of respect and a mark of honour. It is not clear whether Messi chose not to understand the potentially symbolic value of wearing a bisht – which looks a bit like one of those cloaks students wear at graduation ceremonies – and of his subsequently hugging the Qatari emir (it totally looked like he was hugging his father). Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that the bisht partially covered Messi’s home country jersey.

Some people liked it. Some other thought it was shameful. Someone on Twitter called him “Sheikh Messi” (an unconscious humorist?), while some others were angry that Argentina’s moment on the world stage was overshadowed by a show of Qatari nationalism. Some people praised Messi for what they called an act of courtesy towards Qatar. Even the aesthetics of it was called into question, as someone thought that the bisht made Messi look like someone who was about to get a haircut – as opposed to someone who’d led his team to a World Cup victory. Not to mention those who saw Messi as the King of Football, a bisht making him holy.

Sheikh Messi is not a fool, I’d imagine. He did – albeit briefly, though at the very peak of his career – turn into the ultimate jester. He didn’t mind. Not only that, but he’s an extremely wealthy football player who’s idolized by millions around the globe, particularly the Argentinian poor, not to mention the very low-wage migrant workers in Qatar some people made a fuss about. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the vast majority of people in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa supported Argentina. Probably the vast majority of people outside France (in Europe) did likewise.

Football (and sport in general) enables (or is enjoyed through the lens of) awareness of fundamental rights and freedom, some people might say. An overstatement? I think that you can’t keep politics out of football (or any similar sport) – unlike the FIFA people (or the like) would like us to believe through their dictatorship-like rule: remember the black power salute in 1968 (Mexico City Olympics), Muhammad Ali’s stance on the Vietnam War, the mutually-supporting Rugby Union and apartheid in South Africa, the American Football League’s members who knelt while the national anthem was being played – by way of protest against police brutality.

Like it or not, football and nationalism go hand-in hand. In 2018, Guardiola wore a piece of yellow fabric – in support of Catalan activists imprisoned in Spain. Some football association gave him a hefty fine as a result. He was a manager, though, not a forbearing jester like Messi. It might have been different if multi-millionaire, now crowned Sheikh Messi, had put on the bisht himself, and publicly stated that – as the new King of Football – he’d make sure that low-wage workers all over the world would be treated fairly, from now on. Infantino would probably have given him a hefty haircut himself. Or have had a heart attack.

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