LONDON: Several Western media outlets have condemned Qatar for “ruining” the World Cup final on Sunday by honoring Argentina’s Lionel Messi with a bisht, a gesture of high respect, while merely describing goalkeeper Emi Martinez as “lewd” for holding the Golden Glove trophy against his crotch.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, accompanied by FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, draped a traditional Arab bisht over the shoulders of Argentina captain Messi, as he was about to lift the World Cup trophy following his team’s victory over France.
But as the world watched, the BBC’s sports presenter and former England international footballer Gary Lineker, who on Dec. 13 branded the US an “extraordinarily racist country,” said: “It seems a shame, in a way, that they’ve covered up Messi in his Argentina shirt.”
Some British websites, such as Wales Online and FourFourTwo, reported briefly that Lineker was "taken aback" by Martinez's "cheeky" gesture before "moving on swiftly."
The Telegraph newspaper described the bisht gesture as a “bizarre act” that “ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history.” The Mirror’s headline claimed Messi was “forced to cover Argentina shirt.”
The same paper, however, simply described Argentina goalkeeper’s placing the Golden Glove trophy against his crotch and thrusting it toward France fans as a “lewd” gesture.
The Daily Mail, too, described Martinez’s action as “rude,” but in the same story went on to praise the goalie for saving his team.
In another article, the British newspaper described Qatar as an “abysmal” and “soulless” state that “claimed Messi as one of their own” by dressing him in a “flimsy black robe,” describing the bisht.
The Daily Mail piece then described the World Cup host country as an “unfathomably wealthy speck in the desert,” going on to slam the state for “staging a World Cup without calamity” after “having tidied away anything remotely threatening its own facade of cleanliness and perfection.”
British sports journalist Laurie Whitwell wrote in a message posted on Twitter that Qatar “wanted to be present in the World Cup trophy pictures,” described the bisht as a “weird, unnecessary look” and said the gesture was “grossly indulgent.”
The Athletic Football reporter, however, seemed to have nothing to say about Martinez on the same day except that the Argentina goalkeeper “stacks the odds in his team’s favour” and “forces his personality on the taker.”
In a tweet that was later deleted, ESPN correspondent Mark Ogden described the bisht as “a cape that looks like he’s about to have a haircut.”
The American journalist, who also complained that “it wasn’t Qatar’s moment to cover Messi’s Argentina shirt with their own garment of clothing,” seemed indifferent to Martinez’s gesture as he made no reference to it on Twitter.
Such unpleasant remarks about the bisht gesture were greeted by outrage on social media, with many users denouncing them as “ignorant” or “racist” and praising the Qatari hosts of the tournament.
“The take by some Western journalists demonstrated either their sheer ignorance — or outright hate towards this expression of local custom and tradition,” MSNBC opinion columnist Ayman Mohyeldin wrote on Instagram.
He pointed out that “winning athletes are given gifts to wear all the time based on local or even tournament traditions.” He cited as an example Pele being presented with a sombrero during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Several Twitter users similarly responded to media criticism of the bisht by sharing photos of Pele wearing a sombrero as he celebrated Brazil’s World Cup triumph 53 years ago.
A Twitter video showed non-Arab Argentina fans flocking to the tailor’s shop that made Messi’s bisht to buy the garment, drape it over their nation’s jerseys, and take pictures in it.
In the video, created by Kuwait’s Al-Qabas newspaper, a fan said the bisht “for us will be a memory that will stay with us all of our lives.”
“It’s an amazing feeling for us,” he added.
Another fan believed people wearing a bisht “looked great,” explaining that the Qatari emir gave it to Messi to honor him in a moment of pride and power.
A Brazilian fan donning the bisht said he was very curious when he saw Messi wear the garment, expressing his delight to find out it is worn on special occasions.
Susan Borden, vice president of Michael E. DeBakey High School in Qatar, wrote on LinkedIn that some of the online commentary about the bisht was “derogatory” and added: “When it’s the Emir of a country literally gifting you the bisht … it’s the highest honor that can be bestowed upon that civilian.”
Other social media commentators described the journalists who criticized the bisht presentation as “salty” and advised them to “relax.” Some journalists, though, did seem to understand the significance of the gesture.
“I’m probably in the minority here but I thought Lionel Messi wearing a bisht was a nice touch,” wrote sports journalist Zach Lowy.
“Bishts are given to Arab warriors after a victory in battle, or to royalty. Messi just won the greatest battle of them all and confirmed himself as the king of football.”
Another commentator wrote: “This is a fitting and respectful gesture for Messi. We could benefit from some nuance in our critique of Qatar and FIFA.”
In his Instagram post, Mohyeldin added: “Instead of using this moment to foster cross-cultural understanding or even pose critical questions to serve the interests of readers, some journalists opted to use their platforms to disparage and denigrate an iconic and celebratory moment in sports history.”
Throughout the Qatar 2022 tournament, social media commentators from around the world have raised concerns about some Western media criticisms of the host nation. Many described the rhetoric as “biased,” “racist” or “Islamophobic.”