Messi’s black Qatari robe at World Cup trophy lift draws mixed reactions from fans

Qatari emir drapes traditional Arab cloak, a bisht, over Argentine captain in what some see as sign of respect; others complain it obscured the team shirt in an iconic moment

Argentina's Lionel Messi, draped in an Arab cloak, holds the trophy as he celebrates with his team at the end of the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Argentina won 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the match ended tied 3-3. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, draped in an Arab cloak, holds the trophy as he celebrates with his team at the end of the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Argentina won 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the match ended tied 3-3. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Images of Lionel Messi draped in a black Qatari robe over his blue-and-white team shirt as the Argentine captain hoisted the long-awaited World Cup golden trophy on Sunday drew mixed reactions online as some welcomed the garment as a sign of respect and others complained it obscured the shirt too much and impacted a “magic moment.”

The ceremonial Arab robe — a bisht — was draped over Messi’s shoulders by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, following Argentina’s win over France in a 4-2 penalty shootout as part of a thrilling final game, and right before he was awarded the 18-carat gold Golden Ball, which he then held up high, flanked by his teammates.

Before the iconic moment, Messi exchanged pleasantries with FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the Qatari emir, who presented him with the bisht, a traditional men’s cloak worn in the Arab world on special occasions such as graduations, weddings, and religious holidays.

Messi later removed the bisht and was seen celebrating just in the team shirt.

“Longest wait for a trophy lift ever and they did their best to ruin it. Why cover up Messi’s shirt with that? Ridiculous. Glad he’s now ditched it,” wrote James Pearce, a Liverpool FC reporter, on Twitter.

Mark Ogden, an ESPN writer, said that “it wasn’t Qatar’s moment to cover Messi’s Argentina shirt with their own garment of clothing.”

Argentina’s captain and forward Lionel Messi gestures towards his teammates as he stands on stage with FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani after Argentina won the Qatar 2022 World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on December 18, 2022 (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

A journalist for The Athletic sports news site said the bisht “made for an [sic] weird, unnecessary look amid a sea of blue + white sporting shirts.”

“Just why? There’s no reason to do that,” said BBC pundit Pablo Zabaleta, according to a Guardian report, which also cited BBC host Gary Lineker as saying that it was “a shame they’ve covered his shirt” during “a magic moment.”

One fan wrote: “A Qatari didn’t win the trophy, an Argentinian did. The shirt means something to them as well, and they want to see their hero lift the trophy wearing that shirt.”

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, draped in an Arab cloak, holds the trophy aloft as he celebrates with his team at the end of the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Argentina won 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the match ended tied 3-3. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

But other fans embraced the traditional robe and said it was meant to honor Messi. One fan who responded to Pearce’s tweet said the garment was part of “Qatari tradition, they wear it when they graduate, get married, win a trophy and so on. They wanted to honor him with it and it wasn’t supposed to be worn for long it’s usually a minute or two.”

Another fan wrote that that bisht “makes Messi look like an actual emperor.”

Others hailed “king” Messi. The Argentine captain “is being honored as royalty in his Argentinian shirt, as the King of Football. It’s poetic. I don’t expect haters to understand because small minds will never get to king level,” wrote one observer.

“When Arabs gift their guest a bisht it dignifies him and is a sign of gratitude and isn’t so different from when Pele wore a Mexican hat in 1970,” wrote another fan in reference to when the famed Brazilian forward was given a sombrero following his team’s victory against Italy in Mexico that year.

Al-Thani paid tribute to the finalists and fans in a Twitter statement after the match, an unforgettable finale for a unique World Cup — the first to be played in the Middle East and the Arab world.

“We have fulfilled our promise to organize an exceptional championship by Arab countries, which provided an opportunity for the people of the world to learn about the richness of our culture and the originality of our values,” the emir said.

Qatar spent more than $200 billion on stadiums and new infrastructure ahead of the first World Cup in an Arab nation, which Infantino has said was the “best ever”.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) helps Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi put on a bisht as FIFA President Gianni Infantino (R) watches after the Qatar 2022 World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on December 18, 2022. (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

For FIFA and the Qatari organizers, a final between two major soccer nations and the world’s two best players represented a perfect way to cap a tournament laced with controversy ever since the scandal-shrouded vote in 2010 to give the event to a tiny Arab emirate.

The years-long scrutiny since has focused on the switch of dates from the traditional June-July period to November-December, strong criticism of how migrant workers have been treated, and then unease about taking soccer’s biggest event to a nation where homosexual acts are illegal.

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