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As David Beckham replies blithely to attacks over being involved with the Qatar World Cup, even though it is illegal to be gay there, it’s feared that thousands of migrant workers may have died in building the infrastructure for it, and there were accusations of bribery to secure the competition in the first place, our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry who has spent 39 years in journalism (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon, and has won numerous awards) looks at the crucial importance of responding to criticism.
Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo (SWE) office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and made clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
When you’re in a hole stop digging – even better, say sorry while doing it for what you’ve done.
In all the many years I’ve been in journalism, I’ve always thought this, and wondered why it hardly ever happened.
We all make mistakes, and if you’re exposed making one (by someone like ME!), then the best thing to do is stop committing it, and apologise.
The latest example of appallingly NOT doing so, comes from David Beckham, after he was called out by the comedian Joe Lycett, when he controversially promoted the World Cup in Qatar (for which Wales qualified)!
Mr Beckham’s ‘people’ merely issued a statement, insisting (it would appear) that he was right all along, saying: “David has been involved in a number of World Cups and other major international tournaments both as a player and an ambassador and he has always believed that sport has the power to be a force for good in the world.
“Football, the most popular sport globally, has a genuine ability to bring people together and make a real contribution to communities.
“We understand that there are different and strongly held views about engagement in the Middle East but see it as a positive that debate about the key issues has been stimulated directly by the first World Cup being held in the region.”
Mr Beckham’s tourism promotion appears to have opened the door to others.
Adverts tempting holiday-makers to sample the ‘delights’ of Qatar, are seen on our television screens all the time now.
Meanwhile it’s the final sentence by his ‘team’ in the statement that really gets my goat. Of course there are ‘strongly held views’, when a country has such an awful attitude to human rights!
Mr Beckham’s declaration about Qatar, finally came several days after he was skewered by Mr Lycett on television.
He broadcast a stunt with Mr Beckham at the centre of it all, which involved him issuing an ultimatum claiming he would shred £10,000 of his own money if Mr Beckham didn’t step away from his deal before the Qatar tournament’s opening ceremony. The former footballer didn’t, and Mr Lycett was then filmed appearing to shred the money.
Mr Lycett explained in a subsequent video that he “never expected” to hear from Mr Beckham before the deadline he had set, and that the money which came out of the shredder was fake anyway – further stressing that he would “never be so irresponsible” as to destroy real money, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis.
The programme showed how Mr Lycett had also arranged for the shredder to be blocked off inside, and refitted with a chute which dispensed shredded paper that looked like real money, to create the illusion.
Before his first message for Mr Beckham, Mr Lycett had donated the money to two Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) charities, Stonewall’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign and ‘Sport Allies’. He added that he performed the caper because he wanted to “get people talking” about the situation.
Many footballers and pundits travelled to Qatar (where homosexuality is severely punishable) for the tournament, but Mr Beckham – who has been named an LGBT ally many times over – signed a big-money deal to appear in adverts encouraging tourism to the country.
His input appears to have helped, and comments from organisers of the Qatar World Cup, emphasise their view that the country’s image abroad has been altered.
Its chief Hassan Al Thawadi said that the tournament changed perceptions of the region and transformed his country, while insisting there should be recognition for improved workers’ rights.
“This was a celebration of the Arab people, of our culture, of our tradition, of our history”, Mr Al Thawadi proclaimed during an interview in Qatar’s capital, Doha.
“It was a platform for bringing people together in an unprecedented way. It changed the perception of this part of the world, and allowed us to showcase the best in us”, he added.
Unfortunately these fine words, and Mr Beckham’s involvement, hide a dark reality.
The Sunday Times, disclosed that the country had secretly offered £400 million to the football governing body FIFA, just 21 days before being awarded the event, and once the announcement was made, more alarm bells started to ring.
The state is slightly smaller than Connecticut and has scant soccer pedigree, but in December 2010 the tournament was given to it even so, during a bidding process that, according to American authorities, was riddled with corruption.
Shocking remarks from Khalid Salman, a retired football star from Qatar, and ambassador for the football World Cup, have underscored the awful facts that gay people there may endure a punishment of up to three years in prison, as well as knowing they could even face the death penalty under sharia law if they are Muslim. He used an Arabic term for being homosexual meaning that it was a “damage in the mind”, speaking on the German public broadcaster ZDF. Mr Salman also horrifyingly said that gay people were bringing in to Qatar something that was “not good”, and he was worried children in his country might see gay men and women. He was then swiftly cut off by a media adviser.
This medieval approach to being gay in Qatar caused a huge storm, with remarks from politicians adding to it. The Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly said even before them, that fans should be: “Respectful of the host nation” (which has a TINY population of just 2.9 million people, but with an estimated 1.7 million migrant workers). However Lucy Powell the Shadow Culture Secretary declared: “This is shockingly tone deaf from James Cleverly”.
Under the headline: Why Qatar makes this football fan so uneasy”, The Times columnist David Aaronovitch wrote: “…it is effectively a monarchical dictatorship”, as well as: “…I wouldn’t dream of going (to Qatar). Even watching from afar feels horribly like collusion. It’s all a bit sad”.
Others though, HAVE gone to Qatar, but for reasons other than those held by some Welsh football fans – to protest about its severe laws. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) campaigner Peter Tatchell demonstrated against them in Doha, where he held up a placard which read: “Qatar arrests, jails and subjects LGBTs to ‘conversion’”.
Earlier this year, under the headline ‘DOCTOR BECOMES ‘FIRST’ QATARI TO PUBLICLY COME OUT AS GAY’ The Independent reported that Nas Mohammed said: “I walked into a gay club and I knew I was 100 per cent gay. I went home and cried – I thought my life is in crisis. I thought I was going to go to hell, my life is damned”.
One leading Welsh football presenter, told me: “A producer I work with is gay and he can’t go!”.
Even the former president of FIFA, (Sepp Blatter), appears now to have reversed his position, and says the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar was a “mistake”.
We are told this is to do with the size of the country, and not connected to human rights abuses, but his comments will only add to the worrying headlines about Qatar.
Mr Blatter’s change of heart came as 10 European football associations (including those of England and Wales) announced: “human rights are universal and apply everywhere”.
Peaceful protests were planned by some players, while England’s defeated Harry Kane and nine other captains of European teams (among them the Wales captain Gareth Bale) were to wear ‘One Love’ armbands in order to promote diversity and inclusion.
However it was decided NOT to wear them following a threat from FIFA that players could face an instant yellow card for doing so. Afterwards, a joint statement from the Football Associations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland declared. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented – we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the One Love armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response”. They added: “FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play“
Denmark were donning ‘toned-down’ shirts in protest, with kit provider Hummel saying it did “not wish to be visible”, while Australia’s squad released a video urging Qatar to abolish its laws banning same-sex relationships.
Two excellent recent books have laid bare in horrifying detail the darker side of life inside Qatar. It has used the World Cup as a form of ‘soft power’, to boost the profile of the state, however there are serious doubts about the way this has been done.
They are: ‘Hidden Stories From One of the Richest Nations on Earth’ by John McManus, as well as ‘Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup : ‘Politics, Controversy, Change’ by Paul Michael Brannagan and Danyel Reiche.
The London Review of Books (LRB), which featured them, has underlined the nature of laws in the state: “Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and though the organisers of the World Cup have insisted that everyone is welcome it remains to be seen how public demonstrations of same-sex affection will be handled; earlier this year one of the men in charge of security at the tournament Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah al-Ansari, warned that rainbow flags may be taken from fans for their own protection”.
Despite everything, football supporters were urged to celebrate Wales’ qualification, and a group of Welsh fans even recorded a charity song to mark the occasion.
The Cardiff-based newspaper South Wales Echo (SWE), as well as the website version WalesOnline (WO) were particular cheerleaders, and they ‘reported’: “Those behind the song We’ve Got The Red Wall hope it will become a hit on the terraces and make it to number one before the tournament kicks off in Qatar in November”.
One of those who made it, the senior Welsh journalist, Tim Hartley, flew out there to follow the Welsh team. In one Facebook (FB) post a day before the tournament kicked off, and including a link to a UK newspaper piece with Daffydd Iwan’s ‘Yma o Hid’, he said: “People are finally ‘getting’ why we bang on about football, Wales, identity and the language. Diolch am hyn Donald. He posted, too, pictures on his FB page from inside the stadium before or during the Wales game against USA.
Mr Hartley changed his FB profile several times, as well, as he celebrated watching matches in Qatar. In another FB post, though, he appeared to have become disillusioned with the organisation of the World Cup, and said: “Great atmos in the ground but getting back was a real drag. Hotels, prices, beer and bucket hats. I’m talking all things Wales Away on Radio 4s Today programme this morning at 0720”.
But the conditions for migrant workers in building the stadiums for the kick-off have been no less alarming, and they place another question mark over Mr Hartley’s decision (and that of others) to fly out to Qatar. The dreadful heat and horrendous environment have led, it’s claimed, to THOUSANDS of deaths. The Qatari authorities vigorously dispute the high number, and say only fifty have died. Yet the respected Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) (Human Rights Watch [HRW]), say it is true.
What is certainly the case, though, is that Qatar detained and then deported dozens of migrant workers who were protesting about the circumstances of their work. HRW declared: “These are the people who have literally built the World Cup from the ground up, from the desert up. They are the ones who must receive financial compensation before the first ball is kicked”.
Like those migrant workers, women are also treated like second class citizens in Qatar. Most must be veiled, and they need the permission of a male ‘guardian’, usually a father or brother, to marry, get a government job, or to apply for a university scholarship.
The jubilations over Wales qualifying were not confined to English-language media, either. The Welsh-language magazine Golwg produced a wall chart, showing the teams in each group, and the progress that must be made to reach the World Cup final.
Yet surely human rights come FIRST, and celebrating success at qualifying comes SECOND!
Even Welsh football fans were outraged at the fanfare in the mainstream media. One, Dafydd Jones, of Neath told The Eye: “I have always backed the Wales team, but all this hoopla about us qualifying for Qatar left me completely cold. Especially as we went out in the first round. After all – people can’t be gay there, and I have read about the money that changed hands to get the World Cup. It’s in the wrong place anyway, and Qatar should never have got it. The heat means they have had to move all the schedules back home!”.
Perhaps Mr Beckham should have talked about these issues when he promoted tourism in Qatar…
Truths like these by Phil, who was gripped by the rare neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.