So will you be watching? No, I don’t mean the World Cup. We’ll come to the thorny will you/won’t you question in a minute. I mean will you be watching Joe Lycett shred £10,000 today because David Beckham has done his sums and, minus what he shells out for PR advice and repairing reputational damage, decided that the appearance fee was just too good to turn down?

In case you missed this little spat, the comedian and the ex-footballer are locked in a very public stand-off over whether Beckham will attend the World Cup in Qatar. The tournament kicks off this afternoon. The spat kicked off a week ago when Lycett issued his challenge.

Beckham, who is president and co-owner of US ‘soccer’ team Inter Miami – or Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami if you want its proper name – has been handed a great deal of cash by the Qataris for an ambassadorial role. How much? Hard to say. One newspaper puts it at £150 million, based on a 2021 deal Beckham is supposed to have inked worth £15 million a year for a decade (though why Qatar would need David Beckham singing its praises until 2031 is unclear. Is his voice that good? Has he promised to get ‘Qatar is cool and not at all a human rights basket case’ tattooed across his forehead in Sanskrit?). Most news outlets are erring on the side of caution and saying £10 million is the fee. Either way, it’s quite a pile of lucre.

Filthy lucre many think, Joe Lycett among them. The comedian’s Benders Like Beckham campaign website has a clock on it counting down to noon today, which is when the shredding of the money is to take place if Beckham doesn’t turn his back on the Qatar deal. The intention is to live stream the whole thing. If Beckham does end his relationship with Qatar, Lycett will donate the money to charity.

The website also contains an open letter. “This is a message to David Beckham,” it reads. “I consider you, along with Kim Woodburn and Monty Don, to be a gay icon. You were the first premiership footballer to do shoots with gay magazines like Attitude, to speak openly about your gay fans, and you married a Spice Girl which is the gayest thing a human being can do.”

It continues with a jokey dig at a football team beloved of fellow comedian Frank Skinner (“You have always talked about the power of football as a force for good. Which suggests to me you have never seen West Brom”) and then comes to the meat of the complaint, which deals with that human rights record and in particular Qatar’s restrictive laws on homosexuality. For context, American business magazine Forbes placed Qatar eighth in its ranking of the least safe places for gay travellers, citing as proof penal tariffs of up to three years in clink and, where Sharia law is invoked, flogging or even the death penalty.

For the record, shredding currency is a crime (unless you’re Kwasi Kwarteng or Liz Truss, who are still walking around free for some reason). For the sake of accuracy, Beckham played twice against West Bromwich Albion for Manchester United and even managed an assist in one of the games. And for the sake of gay couples or singles planning a holiday and hurriedly scrubbing Qatar off their list, you should also take the red pen to: Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Malawi, Oman, Jamaica and Myanmar. They all rank ahead of Qatar on that uh-oh index of risk.

Back to the world cup. There are many other complaints against Qatar hosting the event besides the LGBT rights issue. Such as: over 6000 foreign workers may have died in the construction of the stadiums, though Qatar denies that figure. Such as: maybe, just maybe, there were backhanders paid to ensure the event came to the country in the first place which, if true, would be an egregious act of corruption. Such as: it’s really too hot to play football in the desert, even in winter. Such as: this is yet another example of ‘sports washing’, whereby companies, countries or individuals burnish their tarnished reputations through the purchase of football clubs (see Manchester City, Chelsea, Newcastle United, Paris Saint-Germain etc.) or through iffy commercial deals (see German club Schalke 04, who until February were sponsored by Russian state energy company Gazprom).

Such as: do they even play football in Qatar?


There are other high profile critics and refuseniks besides Joe Lycett. Veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has already been detained in Qatar for mounting a protest and is asking players to bring up the country’s human rights record in their post-match interviews. The Australian national side, which features several Scotland-based players, has already made a filmed statement criticising Qatar. And back in Blighty, one of the best known players from the women’s game has spoken out too.

Beath Mead, England goal hero and top scorer at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 championship, is in a relationship with Arsenal team-mate Vivianne Miedema and opened up on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour. “It’s not the best idea,” she said of the decision to hand the tournament to Qatar. “Obviously the way they think and how they go is the complete opposite to what I believe and respect, and although I’m cheering for the boys who are going to play football there, I still don’t think it’s the right place … Unfortunately, money talks.”


Already troubled before a ball has been kicked and a dodgy VAR decision questioned by Gary Lineker, the tournament may run aground on the public order front too.

Rioting at world cups is as traditional as England going out on penalties and, though the Qatari police are pretty tasty by all accounts, they have had to ask for help in quelling any potential pavement dancing. And so, in a gruesome imitation of the multinational club sides which occupy the upper echelons of the game, the Qataris cops will be joined by Turkish special forces (the feared Polis-Özel-Harekat), a 200 strong squad of those same French riot police who were so helpful to Liverpool fans at May’s Champion’s League final in Paris and troops from, er, Pakistan.

I can almost smell the tear gas from here.

There will also be teams of police officers from the US, UK, South Korea and Italy. Spain refused a request to send riot police, but the Turks have made up for that lack by also sending a battleship. A battleship! Just shy of three million matchday tickets have apparently been sold, which would make this one of the best attended world cups ever. On top of that the country is expecting one and a half million fans to attend. It could be chaos even if nobody throws a bottle or a punch.

So will you be watching? That’s tricky. When Scotland failed to qualify for the world cup, the joke doing the rounds was: ‘Well, we didn’t want to go anyway, now we can remain unsullied by association.’ Or words to that effect.

It was funny then but now is the time to put our money where our mouths were (though maybe not in as literal a fashion as Joe Lycett did last week). But from the questionable ethics of football governing body FIFA to the manifest problems regarding fairness and equality in the host nation there are certainly good reasons for boycotting the whole thing.

Most of us won’t, though. Football is a global passion and, as the purple-clad Roman emperors knew all too well, the people – that’s us – need their bread and circuses.

Come full time on December 18, the day of the final, as the crowds disperse and foreign workers prepare to dismantle one stadium entirely and remove the seats from six of the other seven, we may experience a degree of self-satisfaction at Scotland’s absence from the tawdry spectacle. Enjoy that if you can – I suspect it may be tinged with guilt that we were present for it, even remotely.