David Beckham has broken his silence over his controversial multimillion-pound World Cup deal with Qatar after heavy criticism from the comedian Joe Lycett.
The former England footballer’s spokesman said he saw it as positive that debate about “key issues” has been stimulated by the contest being held in the country.
In a nod to the widespread condemnation over Beckham’s role as ambassador to Qatar, for which he was rumoured to have been paid up to £150m, his team said he understands there are “different and strongly held views about engagement in the Middle East”.
Last month, after issuing Beckham with an ultimatum to end his relationship with the World Cup hosts before the first match, Lycett livestreamed himself dropping £10k into a wood-chipper.
He revealed the following day that he had faked the shredding and had instead donated the money to LGBTQ+ charities.
In a special edition of Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, which aired on Channel 4 on Thursday, the comedian, 34, read out Beckham’s statement in full.
“David has been involved in a number of World Cups and other major international tournaments both as a player and an ambassador and he’s always believed that sport has the power to be a force for good in the world,” it said.
“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 positive that debate about the key issues has been stimulated directly by the first World Cup being held in the region.
“We hope that these conversations will lead to greater understanding and empathy towards all people and that progress will be achieved.”
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Lycett revealed he had received the “exclusive statement” on Twitter before the programme, adding: “As far as we are aware this is the only statement he or his team have given to any outlet regarding his involvement in Qatar.
“I have been advised that legally I cannot give my opinion on it, so you’ll have to make up your own minds.”
In the show, Lycett also spoke to Dr Naser Mohamed, who claims to be the first and only openly gay Qatari.
The physician and activist, who said LGBTQ+ issues in Qatar were “life-threatening”, claimed he was blocked by Beckham’s Instagram account after he “tagged him” in a post to say “this is what is happening” in relation to Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance.
Lycett also hit out at McDonald’s and Budweiser, which both sponsored the tournament, but said they had declined to comment.
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Qatar has faced an onslaught of criticism after being chosen as the World Cup host nation, with the country’s poor human rights record and ban on same-sex relationships proving particularly problematic.
In Qatar, participating in same-sex sexual activity can be punished with up to seven years in prison, or even the death penalty.
Both Lycett’s original money-shredding stunt, and his admission that the whole thing was a hoax, divided opinion, with some labelling him “attention seeking”, while others hailed him as a hero.