– Many reporters were displeased when the ruler draped a bisht over the shoulders of Lionel Messi as the Argentina captain was about to lift the World Cup on Sunday
– Social media commentators pointed out that it is a tradition in some Arab nations and reflects a deep level of respect and high honor for important and influential figures
Some Western media outlets and journalists expressed disdain after the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, accompanied by FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, draped a bisht over the shoulders of Argentina captain Lionel Messi as he was about to lift the World Cup on Sunday following his team’s victory over France in the final.
The presentation of the garment is a tradition practiced by some Arab nations as a gesture that reflects a deep level of respect and high honor for important and influential figures.
But as the world watched Messi lift the trophy, BBC Sport 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.”
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.”
British sports journalist Laurie Whitwell, who works for The Athletic Football, 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 Qatar’s gesture was “grossly indulgent.”
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.”
Remarks and sentiments such as these were greeted by outrage on social media, with many users denouncing them as “ignorant” or “racist” and praising the Qatari hosts of the tournament for the gesture.
“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.
Mohyeldin added that such demonstrations of ignorance and hate are “something we have seen time and time again throughout this tournament.”
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.
“Messi was draped in a bisht (given to him by the emir of Qatar) out of respect for being the greatest player of all time and lifting a World Cup. It’s an iconic moment,” one Twitter user wrote as he condemned the negative commentary as a form of racism.
Susan Borden, vice president of Michael E. DeBakey High School in Qatar, wrote in a LinkedIn post 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, putting it on you with his own hands, it’s the highest honor that can be bestowed upon that civilian.”
A Twitter user responded to ESPN’s Ogden by saying that it was “your job as a journalist to understand what is going on before crying about it.”
Another user told The Atlantic’s Whitwell that the Qatari emir’s gesture was one of appreciation and said: “This is something you will never understand unless you clean your heart from hatred.”
Others 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.”
– Arab News
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