On the penultimate day of the 2022 World Cup, head high and full of pride, Messi commemorated his victory by receiving a special gift from the Emir of Qatar. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani draped the ceremonial Arab cloak known as the bisht around the star player before Messi lifted the World Cup high. In the Arab world, the bisht is considered a gift of the highest honor as it represents royalty, chivalry and wisdom and is worn by the royal family and sheikhs of Qatar. It is held in such high regard that it caught the attention of Omani lawyer, Ahmed Al Barwani who took to Twitter and offered Messi a whopping one million dollars for his bisht:
In the post, Al Barwani made it clear that he is willing to pay Messi one million dollars and expressed the significance behind Messi donning the traditional cloak: “the moment told the world that we are here, and this is our culture, please know it well. This tournament was a source of pride and has highlighted important facts about how we didn’t forget about Palestine and that Arabs are one and united.”
Al Barwani wants to bring back the bisht to Arab soil for it to be displayed and for the world to see it and appreciate the story behind it. Many believe, however, that it is unlikely for Messi to accept the offer as he understands the importance and honor behind receiving the traditional garment. With Messi’s face of blissful pride, while donning the bisht and Al Barwani’s enthusiasm at wanting to buy the cloak, one would think that the World Cup moment is one that was universally treasured and celebrated but that was not the case. Many took to social media to express a completely different sentiment to what Al Barwani and many others shared online.
On the final day of the World Cup, the world responded with outrage as they watched Messi don the bisht. Western media outlets like the Telegraph shared an article where they referenced the moment as “the bizarre act that ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history.” When it came to Twitter, the criticism continued with several users labeling the act as that of an attempt at sports-washing by Qatar while many stated that it ruined the entire moment like Liverpool’s FC reporter James Pearce.
Others including Laurie Whitewell, a journalist for the AthelticFC felt like it was an attempt by Qatar to shed a spotlight on the country rather than the winning team.
That is not to say that the whole world shared that sentiment as on the other side of the coin, people knew what the bisht meant beyond being a traditional cloak.
Some even knew how to respond to the backlash and criticism like Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary General of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) who went on to explain the reason behind having Messi put on the bisht.
“It is a dress for an official occasion and worn for celebrations. This was a celebration of Messi. So only a select few people would actually wear the bisht…they basically honoured him [Messi] by putting it over his shoulders, it’s like a mark of honour, and just kind of a cultural welcoming and a cultural acceptance.”Hassan Al Thawadi Via BBC Sport
Amid all the criticism, the question falls on how Messi will respond to the global sentiment. When it comes to the offer, we still do not know if Messi will accept it and give the money to charity or if he will keep the garment. Only time will tell.