David Beckham has the world at his feet. His new MLS entry Inter Miami CF however hasn’t gotten off to the greatest of starts. The club’s trouble in launching has been well documented, but my thought was always that when a ball was finally kicked, much of that world be forgotten and we’d see a club that represented its community take the field and win over fans rather easily. However, the club’s prospective kit sponsor is so problematic they do not deserve a pass.
Qatar Airways has a particular problem with women and in this #MeToo era it seems odd Major League Soccer would embrace a company who CEO has made some of the most sexist and misogynistic comments imaginable.
As a South Asian, I have a particular contempt for Qatar. For years the nation-state has been the worst in the Persian Gulf region (and that is saying a lot) for exploiting people who look like me. Despite recent reforms the very least that could be forced by outside pressure, Qatar’s regime still practices what could be effectively seen as slavery or at the very least indentured servitude toward people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka- my people. As most folks reading this surely know, in Qatar many migrant workers have died building stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Human rights in Qatar are to say the least questionable.
Additionally, Qatar has a very regressive policy toward LGBTQ people and women. Also complicating things in south Florida, they’ve allegedly supported terrorist groups targeting Israel – though it must be said Qatar’s somewhat independent foreign policy when compared to other Gulf states put them closer to outright recognition of Israel in the 1990’s than any other Arab country at the time. But since the Likud came to power, the relationship has been adversarial.
An obvious critique of my stand is the longstanding support I have given Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City. I’ve even written a book about my fandom. Let me explain that.
If I had become a soccer fan after 2008, no way, I would have supported Manchester City. But I became a fan in an era when the club was struggling, was locally owned and tended to struggle financially and on the pitch. That having been said UAE and Abu Dhabi are benevolent and enlightened when compared to Qatar.
But as offended as I am by Qatar itself, Qatar Airways adds even more layers to that offensiveness.. Here’s why:
Qatar Airways has systematically bought its way into western airlines and tried to normalize western views of Qatar through strategic investments and fluffy propaganda. They are also led by a CEO who has no filter when it comes to dishing our offensive views, particularly about women in public. In this #MeToo era it should not be acceptable to get away with much of what Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways has said.
A sampling of quotes from Al Baker:
“In July 2017, Mr Al Baker said that American airlines were “crap” and their passengers were “always being served by grandmothers”, in a speech at a gala dinner to celebrate the launch of a Dublin-Doha route in Ireland. According to a BBC report, he also boasted that the average age of his cabin crew was “only 26″. He later apologised for his remarks and said that they were “careless” and did not reflect his “true sentiments about cabin crew”.
On whether a woman could do his job: “Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position,”
In May 2016, Mr Al Baker said backpackers were not welcome in Qatar because they “just lie on the beach and don’t spend money” and the country wanted to “attract people of higher standard”. He went on to explain that, unlike neighboring Dubai, Qatar did not want backpackers as it would give the country a bad look. – Today Online
It’s unfortunate that Inter Miami CF has chosen this course. A new club with a clean slate should look to embrace all aspects of its community, not offend some before kicking a ball.