Wary of Human Rights Issues, World Cup Sponsors Edge Away from Qatar

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For others, though, the rich paydays on offer can be too big to turn down. Qatar has for years written some of the biggest sponsorship contracts in sports, and that has only ramped up as the World Cup nears. Its biggest capture to date has been David Beckham, the former England star who like Lineker was present in the hall when Qatar chosen as the host for 2022.

Qatar’s multimillion-dollar agreement with Beckham, now also a sports team owner and investor whose celebrity transcends soccer, extends beyond the World Cup; it is, in many respects, a deal for the former England national team captain to endorse Qatar itself. That has led some people close to Beckham to privately express misgivings about the nature of the arrangement. “It’s a deal to promote and support the nation and what they’re doing,” a person with knowledge of the agreement said in describing it.

Beckham has not publicly spoken about what motivated him to sign with Qatar, where he has been a frequent visitor since agreeing to a deal more than 18 months ago. His spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Beckham has so far avoided press scrutiny at events in Qatar, which have included an event with Afghan refugees; a promotional event for Qatar Airways; and an appearance on a panel at the Doha Forum, a flashy event that brings together business and political elites. He was curiously absent, however, from the World Cup draw.

“There’s so much risk attached to this,” said Tim Crow, a former chief executive of Synergy, a firm that has advised Olympic and World Cup sponsors. “I was kind of surprised he’s decided to position himself with something for which there’s so much risk, particularly for a guy who doesn’t need the money.”

Beckham’s relationship with Qatar may lead to questions for one for his other partners, the sportswear manufacturer Adidas. The company provided few specifics about how it would activate its relationship with Beckham for the Qatar World Cup, saying only that he “is a valued, long-term member of the Adidas family and our partnership will continue as such.”

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