The World Cup in Qatar is the scene not only of a clash of cultures but also of the battle, today in full swing, between the democracies of the West and the dictatorships that are gaining ground in the rest of the world. Two figures embody the conflict: on the side of the dictatorships, David Beckham; on the side of democracy, Ehsan Hajsafi.
Beckham may be the world's most famous living person. Or that he has been more years in a row. I remember that in 2003 the English tabloid The Sun set itself a mission: to find someone on some continent who did not know who was the then captain of the English soccer team and the most beautiful supermodel on Earth. Months passed before a daring reporter finally found what The Sun claimed was the only human who hadn't heard of Beckham: a goat herder in the desert country of Chad.
Raise your hand those who know who Ehsan Hajsafi is. Nope? No one? Someone, perhaps, back there...? Good. Ehsan Hajsafi plays as a defender for AEK Athens FC and is the captain of the Iranian national soccer team. He will not lift the world cup, but when the tournament is over, no one will have deserved more applause. The World Cup already has a champion. Of all the public figures who are there in Qatar, Hajsafi is the most upright, the most admirable, the bravest. Beckham is the most pusillanimous, the most vacuous, the most hypocritical. And that the competition in Qatar today is fierce.
It pains me a little to say it. Not only because I like to pontificate (even if I don't) that one should try to understand and not judge people, but because I got to know Beckham more or less well when he played for Real Madrid, between 2003 and 2007. I interviewed him a couple of times. I wrote a book about galactic Madrid and followed the team for a year. Of all those rich and famous footballers, Beckham seemed to be the nicest of people.
Always attentive to others, whether humble or powerful, when he visited a newspaper office he made an effort to greet everyone, not excluding the secretaries and the staff who scrubbed the floors; When the team arrived at the Madrid airport at dawn after a European game, he was the only one of the stars who stopped to take photos with the small group of indefatigable fans who always came to receive them.
Oh, and the one nicknamed Goldenballs in England had eggs, or so it seemed. Long before it was remotely acceptable within professional football to recognize gay rights, he became - while married with children - a gay icon. It all started in 2002 when he posed for the cover of a well-known gay magazine called Attitude. It was a groundbreaking act that at the time was considered risky. Turns out he wasn't. He was coldly calculated. He opened the doors for her to even more sponsorships. It is estimated that, outside of football, Beckham's income has exceeded 800 million euros.
What we see today is that it was an exercise in cynicism, that for Beckham principles are flexible things. So progressive, he, so democratic, so metrosexual, it turns out that the image that he so carefully carved for himself as a decent and honest guy had the sole purpose of earning more, and more, and more money. There we saw him in the photo of the opening ceremony of the World Cup, standing dressed in a suit, behind the FIFA boss, Gianni "I'm gay, I'm Arab" Infantino; of the Saudi tyrant Mohamed bin Salman, and of the Qatari emir, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, the one who puts homosexuals in prison and from whom Beckham has received 175 million euros, according to the English press, to act as World Cup ambassador and, during ten more years, from Qatar.
And not only has he been so progay, Beckham, but also so patriotic, wrapping himself in the British flag, defending the values that have allowed him to express what comes out of his nose all his life with total freedom, without fear of being put in prison. or be killed, unlike the women of Qatar who ask for a modicum of equality with men, or those of Iran, who ask for more.
We already know. In Iran there has been a wave of protests for the past two months following the death by police of a 22-year-old woman whose crime was not wearing the hijab, or headscarf, with the modesty that the theocratic state demands. . Women have led the protests, demanding not only more rights for themselves but more democracy for all, and to date security forces have killed more than 300 people and jailed more than 16,000, according to human rights organizations.
Being an Iranian public figure and defending the rebellion is not an easy gesture, it cannot be a calculated marketing exercise. It is pure principle. You are going to put your life and those of your relatives in danger. But that is precisely what Ehsan Hajsafi did in statements made in Qatar, an ally of Iran, last weekend.
“First of all – said the captain of the Iranian team at a press conference – I would like to express my condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones in Iran. They should know that we are with them, that we support them, that they have all our sympathy, ”he added on behalf of his team.
The gnashing of the ayatollahs' teeth could be heard from Tehran, but Hajsafi had only just begun.
"Our people are not happy," he continued. We are here, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be their voice or that we shouldn't respect them… I hope conditions change to meet people's expectations.”
The other members of the Iran team showed they were with their captain the next day when, before the start of their game against England, they refused to sing the words of their national anthem. What must have thought the English players, those who had announced that they would wear armbands during the match in favor of gay freedom but when FIFA told them “Boo!” they shit themselves and turned back? What will Beckham think?
Shame, one would like to believe. Shame and also admiration before people who value freedom so much that they are willing to sacrifice everything to one day be able to take it for granted as we do here, in the frivolous and soft countries of the West.