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Misinformation and Denigration of the Symbolism of Bisht

Rend Beiruti Rend Beiruti
27th December 2022
Misinformation and Denigration of the Symbolism of Bisht
Gifting a bisht is one of the highest honors in Arab culture (Getty)

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

Misinformation of explicitly racist nature has followed the FIFA World Cup in Qatar even before its kick off and continued to its last moments.

The latest in a series of manufactured controversies is Messi’s World Cup trophy lifting moment when the ruler of Qatar HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani honored the legendary player with a bisht. 

A bisht is a traditional cloak worn across the Arab world, and especially in the Gulf region and Iraq, during ceremonies, weddings, and formal events. After the Emir placed the cloak on Messi, the player joined his teammates and lifted the Cup in an iconic celebration. 

Misinterpreting the cultural significance of the moment propagated misinformation regarding the cultural symbolism of bisht.

Western Media’s Take on Bisht

While many understood the honorary significance and high regard reflected in the Emir’s gesture towards Messi, others, particularly in the Western media, were quick to dismiss and criticize it.

Critiques ranged from describing the moment as an act of “sportswashing,” where Qatar “hijacked” Argentina’s win, to describing it as “awkward.”

The British outlet, The Telegraph, shared the headline "The bizarre act that ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history," which was later edited to “Lionel Messi made to wear traditional Arab bisht for World Cup trophy lift.”

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The edited headline still suggests that this was compulsory or imposed rather than a culturally significant gesture. 

The Australian outlet, The Roar, reported that Messi was “forced” to wear the bisht, despite a lack of evidence supporting this. This notion of compulsion was also echoed by The Mirror which reported that Messi was “forced to cover Argentina shirt.” 

Equally problematic, The Guardian described the images of Messi in the bisht as, “the big payback moment for Qatar’s $220bn investment.” The Independent reported the moment in a similar fashion. 

The reliance on this kind of pejorative language perpetuates simplistic stereotypes of Qatar and the region. It also denigrates the cultural value of symbols such as the bisht. 

Television sports personalities also contributed to these misrepresentations. TV presenter Dan Walker tweeted, “I bet Mbappe is delighted he managed to swerve the weird mesh cloak with gold trim.” 

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In another deleted tweet, ESPN reporter Mark Ogden stated, “All the pics are ruined by somebody making him wear a cape that looks like he’s about to have a haircut.” 

Popular BBC Sport presenter Gary Lineker said, “It seems a shame, in a way, that they’ve covered up Messi in his Argentina shirt.” 

This feigned concern is conveniently oblivious to the fact that the bisht is open and see-through and that no one watching the celebration is ignorant to the fact that Messi is an Argentine player. 

Argentine Media’s Reaction to the Bisht Moment 

Meanwhile, Argentine media was more open to the gesture’s cultural significance. The newspaper Telam compared it to “the gifting of the key to the city in Latin culture.”

Another outlet, Los Andes, reported that “The Emir of Qatar has dressed Messi in the popular Qatari mantle that he wears himself.” 

This recognises that the Emir himself was wearing a similar cloak and further shows the significance of this gesture.

In social media videos, Argentinian fans present in Qatar were seen buying similar cloaks following Argentina’s victory.

Moreover, it is not new for a country hosting the World Cup to add a cultural touch to the final celebrations. Observers have shared that after his third World Cup win in Mexico, Pelé wore the sombrero in an iconic celebration photograph. 

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Similarly, during the 2004 Olympics in Greece, medal winners were given a Laurel wreath, a nod to Greek mythology. 

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The FIFA World Cup is not only a sports event, but also an event aimed at promoting “cultural exchange”. Without these cultural dimensions, the World Cup might as well be held in the same place every time. 

Reactions to Western Media’s Attack on the Bisht 

Some have described these critiques as “arrogant,” “racist,” and “hypocritical.”

Qatar’s assistant foreign minister, Lolwah Alkhater, tweeted, "Gowning Messi with a Bisht drove many Euro-centric supremacists crazy… a state of frenzy has gripped many European media professionals, as they practice their arrogant complex over the world's cultures."

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As her tweet suggests, Western media’s uproar against the bisht seems to emerge from a staunch Eurocentrism that cannot imagine cultures or societies beyond its confines.

Others pointed out the hypocrisy of being outraged towards this moment, while ignoring the racism and Islamophobia that targeted Qatar and Arab countries throughout the tournament. At one point, a Dutch TV program compared Moroccan players celebrating with their family to a family of monkeys. Although the report was blatantly racist, it received little outrage compared to the bisht moment. 

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MSNBC columnist Ayman Mohyeldin commented, “Instead of using this moment to foster cross-cultural understanding or even pose critical questions to serve the interests of readers, some journalists opted to use their platforms to disparage and denigrate an iconic and celebratory moment in sports history.” 

Lastly, some have stated that these baseless attacks detract from the credibility of Western media outlets.   

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

For many, the World Cup in Qatar may have been a rare exposure to the Arab world, one that does not revolve around one-dimensional representations of war and conflict. 

While there have been many racist attacks, such as those against the Moroccan team, Qatar successfully hosted what some have described as the best World Cup. 

For example, initially Qatar was critiqued for not allowing alcohol in the stadiums. This was later revisited when female fans described feeling safer in the Qatar stadiums due to the lack of alcohol. 

Similarly, despite attacks against the bisht, curiosity about the bisht soared following the celebration with online searches from across the world. Sales of the bisht also increased. 

The final, which took place during Qatar’s National Day, was also a celebration of a successful tournament–the first to be held in an Arab and Muslim country.   

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Gifting a bisht is one of the highest honors that can be given in Arab culture. Gifting a bisht to Messi, during one of the most important moments of his career is an extension of this honor. It represents respect and appreciation. 

The propagation of ill-intentioned interpretations of this moment ignores this and reflects an unwillingness to understand or be open towards other cultures. 

Misbar’s Sources




The Roar

Arabian Business



Egyptian Streets

Gulf News

Morocco World News

Manchester Evening News

The National

The New Arab

The New Arab

Arab News


Fox Sports AU

The Guardian


Qatar Moments


The Independent