Search Donate

Show results for
  • News
  • Videos
  • Action Alerts
  • Events
  • Resources
  • MEND

FIFA World Cup: What’s in a bisht or sombrero?

FIFA World Cup: What’s in a bisht or sombrero?

Categories: Latest News

Thursday December 22 2022

The FIFA World Cup 2022 competition, hosted in Qatar, has finally ended, with Argentina defeating France to take the trophy since they last won it in 1986. Lionel Messi, who some people regard as the greatest player ever, was presented with a bisht, a traditional Arab cloak or robe, by the Emir of Qatar as a token of Argentina’s victory.


However, this moment drew criticism, particularly from Western media and sports pundits. To summarise Argentina’s win, the Telegraph published an article titled “The bizarre act that ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history” – now edited. The closing ceremony, which could have been a way to celebrate the end of the World Cup and highlight its positive aspects, quickly descended into a negative discussion about Arab traditions and the corruption of Qatar.


Indeed, the Western media has relentlessly criticised Qatar, demonstrating the media’s orientalist attitudes toward the Gulf.


Until Qatar, no Middle Eastern or Muslim country had hosted the FIFA World Cup. Nonetheless, when it won the bid to host the tournament in 2010, the nation-state was widely condemned, particularly for its questionable human rights record regarding migrant workers and LGBQT+ communities. Last year, the Guardian claimed that 6500 migrant workers had died since Qatar’s selection as host. Still, that figure was found to be misleading because it accounted for all migrant worker deaths in Qatar over ten years, including natural causes. As the tournament approached, there was so much focus and debate on these issues that the BBC decided not to cover Qatar’s World Cup opening ceremony on its screens.


There is no denying that significant numbers of workers have lost their lives during the construction of stadiums. However, the media failed to notice, or willingly ignored, the changes that have occurred in Qatar since its selection as host. For instance, it became the first Gulf country to implement a non-discriminatory minimum wage for all migrant workers and established a reformed Kafala system. Without a doubt, any concerns about human rights violations should be addressed within public debates. What must be asked is why Qatar was subjected to such harsh criticism when previous hosts of the World Cup (Russia) and the Winter Olympics (China) were not criticised to similar extents despite their human rights records.


Furthermore, it must be questioned whether the UK is morally justified in criticising Qatar for its treatment of its migrant workers when the British government insists on deporting its asylum seekers to Rwanda.


The coverage of the Qatar World Cup has not only exposed the Western media’s hypocrisy, but it has also revealed the deep-rooted racism of western society. When Lionel Messi wore the bisht, Gary Lineker slammed FIFA and Qatar for obscuring Argentina’s victory with “his little robe”. During the commentary segment, Lineker said that “​​it’s a shame in a way they’ve covered up Messi in his Argentina shirt”.


In a now-deleted tweet, ESPN’s senior writer Mark Ogden wrote, “Lionel Messi has spent his entire career to lift the World Cup. When he gets to do it, all the pics are ruined by somebody making him wear a cape that looks like he’s about to have a haircut”. Several other individuals have made such derogatory comments on their social media accounts.


This is not only disrespectful to the culture of Qatar and the wider Gulf but also highlights Western prejudices against Arab traditions. When Pelé had earned Brazil its World Cup in 1970, he was gifted with the traditional Mexican hat sombrero. No one has ever asked or questioned the gesture in all those years, but it becomes a point of contention when Qatar makes a similar gesture.


The bisht is a garment that has been worn for centuries; Qatar gifted this to him as a sign of honour and respect, as such robes are typically worn by those who hold are deemed noble. To put it another way, this was a magnificent way to commemorate Messi’s achievements.


What does this mean?

Discourses surrounding the Gulf remain Eurocentric, where Arabs are perceived to be barbaric in their traditions and values. The fact that Qatar proudly upheld its cultural and religious customs throughout the tournaments should have been highlighted and celebrated. It presented an opportunity to dispel myths about the Middle East and Muslims/Islam. This, however, was overshadowed by the Western media’s proclivity to propagate orientalist tropes.

In contrast to the media prejudice, the atmosphere in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern and Muslim country to host the event, has received widespread praise. Videos circulating online show fans on the ground embracing the Qatari culture wholeheartedly as many wore the traditional thobe paired with a ghutra (headdress) while cheering for their team. On the final day, supporters of Argentina “flocked” to the markets to purchase a bisht after Messi was given one.


There was also outrage in the media and amongst football fans when Qatar announced that it would prohibit the consumption of alcohol at the stadium. Despite this, the absence of alcohol has significantly reduced fan hostility, tensions and hooliganism, with many supporters remarking on the calm and amicable atmosphere.


Many women have also expressed how safe they felt in Qatar. Ellie Molloson, an 18-year-old Nottingham Forest fan and advocate for safer spaces for women in football, was “really nervous” about travelling to Qatar to cheer on England, so her father accompanied her. But, unlike in England, where she was used to strange comments or being catcalled, Ellie Molloson soon discovered that her experience was pleasant, which dispelled anti-Muslim rhetoric about Middle Eastern women’s oppression.


Despite the harsh media bias, Qatar’s World Cup captured people’s hearts worldwide and is likely to go down as one of the most memorable events. In the end, tolerance, appreciation, and harmony among people prevailed.


O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware.” 49:13


While such positive stories were scarce in the Western media, it is a shame they chose to undermine Qatar for not adhering to “Western ways,” demonstrating the West’s intolerance, racism and Islamophobia. Therefore, MEND calls upon the British media industry to commit itself to be objective in reporting on issues of cultural or religious dissonance and to support initiatives promoting positive portrayals of Muslims in the media.


Find out more about MEND, sign up to our email newsletter

Get all the latest news from MEND straight to your inbox. Sign up to our email newsletter for regular updates and events information