David Beckham has signed a lucrative deal to be the media-friendly face of the controversial Gulf state of Qatar, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The former England football captain is believed to have been offered at least £10 million to be the country’s ambassador, with a major role in promoting next year’s World Cup there.
But Beckham, who in 2007 announced he was ‘very honoured to have the tag of gay icon’, risks condemnation for cutting a deal with a country where homosexuality is illegal and, under sharia law, punishable by imprisonment, flogging or even death.
David Beckham with Nasser-Al Khelaifi at a game in Qatar in 2019. But Beckham, who in 2007 announced he was ‘very honoured to have the tag of gay icon’, risks condemnation for cutting a deal with a country where homosexuality is illegal
Sources close to the deal are understood to be discussing a strategy to announce an agreement, after concerns that Qatar’s poor image could tarnish the carefully cultivated Brand Beckham.
As well as claims of human rights abuses and corruption, the Middle East state’s treatment of gay people has led to it being named as the second most dangerous country to visit for the LGBTQ+ community. Sex outside of marriage for heterosexual couples also carries a prison sentence of seven years in jail.
Sources say, however, that Beckham, 45, has been assured that the country is relaxing its policy on such issues.
Talks between Beckham’s advisers and the Qatari committee in charge of World Cup preparations have been ongoing for more than a year. After discussing options, including the sponsorship of his US soccer team Inter Miami, they are believed to have settled on a personal deal with the star. One Qatari source said: ‘This is a deal that is supposed to be top secret. It is being kept quiet until there is an opportunity to land it without David’s PR being affected too much.
‘Well, that’s the hope anyway. Qatar are very much in his hands. There are concerns about his reputation but there is enough money on the table for the optics not to matter so much.
‘That said, it will be officially landed at an opportunistic time.’
Another source said: ‘David has so many big-money deals, you do wonder why he would want one like this.’
A major concern could be the reaction to any deal with Qatar among the ex-footballer’s numerous high-profile homosexual friends, including Sir Elton John, who hosts him on his yacht in the South of France every summer.
Beckham, who is worth an estimated £360 million, is known to be a frequent visitor to the Gulf state – he ended his playing career with Qatar-owned French team Paris Saint-Germain in 2013.
He is also close friends with the club’s president, Nasser-Al Khelaifi, and the pair have been seen together at football matches in recent years.
He is also close friends with the club’s president, Nasser-Al Khelaifi (pictured), and the pair have been seen together at football matches in recent years
The star, who has been married to Spice Girl-turned-fashion designer Victoria for 21 years, has made no secret of his support for the forthcoming World Cup to take place in Qatar, despite the poor and dangerous working conditions of migrant staff working on the new stadiums where the matches will be held. Speaking in December 2019, he said: ‘That’s what the World Cup is all about – giving countries the chance to host the biggest competition in the game.
‘It changes economies, changes people’s lives, changes fan experiences and gives people an opportunity to experience football in places you wouldn’t expect to visit.
‘It’s given Qatar an opportunity to do something that’s so special and, as you see, something unique is really being created here.
‘There will be a lot of children in Qatar seeing their own national team playing games and saying “maybe that can be me one day”.’
Last year, there were various reports of a £150 million sponsorship deal between Qatar and US soccer team Inter Miami or the country buying a stake in the club, but neither came to fruition.
Last night, a spokesman for Beckham declined to comment.