‘Disgraceful’ Beckham’s icon status ‘shredded’

David Beckham is the epitome of an icon. A football icon, a fashion icon, and an icon for the gay community worldwide.

But his reputation is being shattered forever as he snatches Qatari cash with one hand, while waving the other in a magic trick designed to distract the world from the gulf nation’s awful human rights record.

The retired English football superstar is being paid a reported $17.7 million to be the face of the Qatar FIFA World Cup. Other reports suggest he’s pocketing in the vicinity of $264 million over 10 years to promote tourism there.

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Beckham’s face is splashed across billboards and stadiums in a country where being an LGBTI+ person is punishable by prison, or even death.

This image flies in the face of the brand Beckham, now 47, built over two decades as a flagbearer for the queer community.

In 2002, when captain of the England football team, he became the first heterosexual athlete to feature on the cover of Attitude magazine – a leading gay publication in the UK.

“He is an icon of modern masculinity and so it was a real moment, a signal to the country that it was OK to be OK with gay people,” Madeleine Morley wrote on reflection in 2015.

Beckham asked Elton John to be godfather to two of his sons. In a 2007 interview with the BBC the footballer said “I feel honored to have the tag of ‘gay icon'”.

He built the brand, he accepted the plaudits, and he reveled in the notoriety.

But his deal with Qatar hasn’t simply knocked the house of cards over – it’s burned it to the ground.

“For Beckham to accept the money, without in any way acknowledging his past statements, his support for LGBTI+ community, or the actual issue as it’s live today in Qatar, is really disgraceful,” Australian football great turned leading social justice warrior Craig Foster told Wide World of Sports.

“There’s no question that the idea of ​​who David Beckham is has changed.

“The LGBTI+ community may well feel used now. In portraying himself, during a period when LGBTI+ rights were foremost in social conversations, as an ally… that in itself is very positive, however it can also be seen under a different light as using the LGBTI+ community cause to build his own brand.

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“Standing with them, using a slogan, sharing a hashtag, these are all very important actions, but at some point we’re all tested in our authenticity.

“And it’s in these tests when we demonstrate through our allyship. When money is on the table, sadly, human beings have difficulty being authentic. And sadly now, for David, he has become the global emblem for that in sport.”

While Beckham has spent the last 20 years parading as a gay icon, he is yet to publicly denounce Qatar’s criminalization of homosexuality.

A statement released by his spokesperson read, “David has been visiting Qatar regularly for over a decade and went on to play for PSG [Paris Saint-Germain]so he has seen the passion for football in the country and the long-term commitment that’s been made to host the World Cup and delivering a lasting legacy for the region”.

People aren’t buying it, and Beckham is well and truly in the crosshairs.

English comedian Joe Lycett has promised to shred 10,000 British pounds ($17,700) in cash on a livestream while the World Cup opening ceremony unfolds, unless Beckham quits his Qatar deal and denounces the country beforehand.

“This is a message to David Beckham… I consider you to be a gay icon,” Lycett told his 1.2 million Twitter followers in a video.

“You were 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.

“Qatar was voted as one of the worst places in the world to be gay. You’ve always talked about the power of football to be a force for good… so with that in mind, I’m giving you a choice.

“If you end your relationship with Qatar, I’ll donate this 10 grand ($17,700 AUD) of my own money to charities that support queer people in football. However, if you do not… I will throw this money into a shredder.

“Not just the money, but also your status as a gay icon will be shredded.”

Australian footballer Josh Cavallo last year became the first openly gay player in the A-League when he came out publicly.

“If someone like David Beckham, with his platform, does get around us and becomes an ally that we are wanting him to be, it is really helpful,” Cavallo told CNN Sport this week.

“If he could take that next step and show what he means to the LGBTQ+ community, that would be fantastic.”

The damage is done, but that’s not to say it can’t now be undone.

Beckham is yet to respond to Lycett’s offer, and with the World Cup beginning on Monday (AEDT) he is running out of time to exit stage left.

But it won’t be enough to quietly quit the contract. Beckham needs to loudly denounce Qatar’s human rights abuses, says Foster.

“We’re all on a journey and we all make mistakes,” Foster said.

“I’d be absolutely delighted if David Beckham came out today and said, ‘look, I made a mistake’. He would have to do something public now to ensure everyone is clear on the stance he’s taking. He could actually become an extraordinary strength for good.

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“The question is, can he learn from it? And can he now accept that it was inappropriate? And can he become a force for positive change?

“The demands of life place everyone from time to time in positions where those moral and ethical decisions are very difficult ones.

“The problem, and when people feel more aggrieved when they invest a lot of emotional support in a prominent person – an athlete or an ex athlete – is we know they don’t need the money to pay their mortgage.

“They don’t need the additional $200 million, they don’t need the additional $10 million. And therefore people feel more aggrieved that they’re able to move their moral compass so easily, particularly when they are so strident in their public commentary .

“So there’s an inference that they’re perfectly happy to criticise, and perfectly happy to call out these types of issues, unless it’s going to cost them money.

“But it’s important we don’t just condemn people. People can change and people can learn from one day to the next. We always need to leave the door open for people to learn.

“My advice to them would be (they) can actually enforce change.”

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