Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, the world governing body of football, said the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was “an incredible success on all fronts”. The first tournament organized by an Arab and Muslim country, he said, was “the best ever”. For Infantino, the fact that football fans “met the Arab world” was “very important for the future of all of us”. There was, he added, a “joyful atmosphere … bringing people together.”
The FIFA chief was not alone in praising Qatar for hosting the tournament. For example, the former co-owner and vice-chairman of British football club Arsenal said: “Qatar has won a lot of friends because of this World Cup and the way it has been handled… It has been a very successful tournament.” David Dein added that he was “privileged” to be present in Qatar. “This has been a great World Cup, a unique World Cup; we’ve never seen it before, we’ll never see it again.”
At the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, American writer Robert Mogielnicki pointed out that Qatar’s success will have a major positive impact in many areas, especially tourism.
Football fans from around the world watching matches in Qatar and on TV were exposed to Arab and Islamic culture and traditions, which many enthusiastically accepted. Arab headdresses in team colors could be seen on the terraces and women would have felt safer in the alcohol-free stadiums. Video evidence shows that some even embraced Islam while in the tiny Gulf state.
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None of this was cheap. Qatar has apparently spent over $220 billion on hosting the FIFA World Cup. The aim was not so much to make money, but to gain international recognition
culture, religion and geopolitical status.
“We fulfilled our promise to host an exceptional championship in an Arab country,” said the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, “giving the people of the world the opportunity to find out more about the richness of our culture and the originality of our values.”
Infantino pointed out that visitors to Qatar generally only knew what they had been told about the region. “Now they have discovered the Arab world. This is enough for Qatar; to let the people know about it and about the region from the region, not from others.”
However, Western media and journalists have criticized Emir Tamim for draping Argentina’s victorious captain Lionel Messi in a traditional Arabic abaya before presenting him with the trophy. While in the Arab world people are draped in the abaya when they celebrate important life events such as graduations and marriages, Western media and journalists have pushed to link it to what they still claim to be a corrupt, coercive bureaucracy. There was a total misreading of the intent and the situation.
Britain Daily mailfor example, published an article under the headline “Selfish moment Qatar World Cup hosts force Lionel Messi to cover his iconic number 10 shirt with an Arab robe for the trophy presentation: “It is a moment for the players, not for the host’. “
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The right-wing paper rightly pointed out that: “Bishts [abayas] have been worn on formal occasions in the Arab world for thousands of years. They are likened to a black tie in the Western world, but also carry connotations of power, as they are often worn by royalty, officials and clergy.
The Mirror, meanwhile used an even more misleading headline. “Lionel Messi had to cover Argentina shirt to lift World Cup trophy”. TBEN presenter and former England striker Gary Lineker, it reported, was not happy with this, noting: “Great scenes, great shots from above and great shots from the inside as Argentina win the World Cup for the third time. It seems a shame, on a way they covered Messi in his Argentina shirt.
The Atlantic Ocean journalist Laurie Whitwell tweeted: “Qatar wanted to be clearly present in the photos of the World Cup trophies, hence that black bisht on Messi. But just created a weird, unnecessary look amidst a sea of blue + white sports shirts. It should be a moment for the players, not the host. Largely indulgent.”
TBEN pundit and former Argentine footballer Pablo Zabaleta wondered: “Why? There is no reason to do that.” Sky Sports Chief reporter, Kaveh Solhekol, said: “Normally the captain, when he receives the trophy, wears his country’s shirt, of course – and the Argentina shirt is one of the most famous in world football. Except tonight, when Lionel Messi that got his hands on the trophy, he was wearing a ceremonial Arab garb called a bisht.”
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According to James Pearce of the Atlantic Ocean, draping Messi in the abaya “ruined” the luck of lifting the trophy. “Longest wait ever for a trophy lift and they did their best to screw it up,” he said tweeted. “Why would you cover Messi’s shirt with that? Ridiculous. Glad he dumped it now.”
After deleting an offensive tweet, ESPN writer Mark Ogden tweeted“It was not the time for Qatar to cover Messi’s Argentina shirt with their own garment.”
The abaya was, of course, transparent. It didn’t completely cover Messi’s iconic shirt. And placing it on his shoulders was not a political move, or an attempt to steal some of his glory. It was a real moment to honor him for the great footballer that he is, not least because he received the garment from the Emir of Qatar, the head of state.
Let us not forget that the dress worn with distinction by university graduates around the world has its origins in the abaya in the Muslim world. Western historians may be right in saying that the toga was a tradition handed down to university graduates by Christian clergy in the 12th and 13th centuries, but we have to wonder where they got it from. The world’s first university was founded by Muslims long before such institutions emerged in Europe. And abayas – “gowns” – were worn there.
The criticism of the ‘Messi abaya’ therefore seems to stem from a determination to discredit Qatar as much as possible. Despite being hailed as the “best ever” FIFA World Cup, this is too much for many people in the West to handle. They still resent that this award was given to a tournament organized and organized by an Arab Muslim country.
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Each country falls short on many points; both in the West and in the Muslim world. And there is still a lot of work to be done in Qatar. However, let’s be kind and give credit where it’s due. This was the best World Cup ever; and it was held in Qatar. Let’s leave it at that and move forward to a better, more understanding future for all.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect Middle East Monitor’s editorial policies.