Despite the protests, celebrities have their reasons for appearing at the World Cup

Just days before the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar, British pop singer Dua Lipa took to Instagram to put an end to the rumours: she would not be performing at the opening ceremony, as some had speculated.

“I look forward to visiting Qatar when it has fulfilled all the human rights pledges it made when it won the right to host the World Cup,” she wrote.

Lipa is among a handful of celebrities who have spoken out about the controversial decision to host the international football competition in Qatar.

The country has been criticized for its discriminatory attitude towards LGBTQ people and for its treatment of the migrant workers who built much of its stadium infrastructure in the years leading up to the event. Qatar had vowed to be more tolerant and clean up its migrant worker situation.

Britpop star Rod Stewart said in a recent interview that he turned down over $1 million to perform at the Cup.

“It’s not right to go,” he told the Times.

Singer Dua Lipa, seen here attending an Elton John show in Los Angeles November 20, is among a handful of celebrities who have spoken out against the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/The Associated Press)

But an even longer list of high-profile figures have chosen to appear, some of whom appear to see the Games as an opportunity to spread a message of global unity.

Singer and football fan Akon told TMZ he doesn’t understand the purpose of a fan boycott of the World Cup in general.

“Personally, I think all over the world there are different cultures, different ways of life, different standards of living,” he said.

In fact, a whole host of musicians will be performing at FIFA Fan Festival 2022, from Calvin Harris to Diplo to Canadian-Moroccan singer Nora Fatehi. Morgan Freeman performed at the cup’s opening ceremony on November 20, as did Jung-Kook of K-pop supergroup BTS.

Nicki Minaj, Colombian singer Maluma and Lebanese singer Myriam Fares collaborated on the official World Cup anthem Tukoh Taka.

And David Beckham was reportedly paid $241 million for serving as one of Qatar’s prominent ambassadors.

A protester holds a newspaper with Beckham on the cover during a demonstration ahead of the World Cup November 19 outside the Qatar Embassy in London. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Working for a sporting mega-event such as the World Cup or the Olympics can be very lucrative. When it comes to that much money, celebrities can streamline everything, says Tim Elcombe, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

“But then you also see that celebrities are using this as an opportunity to challenge and critique what’s happening,” said Elcombe, who researches at the intersection of sport, politics and culture.

“Because there is a culture in art that artists are and are politically involved.”

The presence of stars can divert attention from host country violations.

Some call it “sportswear,” says Lorraine York, a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“Like celebrity itself, these events are examples of increased visibility, increased social visibility, and so they also become avenues for nations to project images of themselves,” York said.

Justin Bieber, for example, performed at a Formula 1 race in Saudi Arabia despite calls from fans and even an open letter from the wife of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to back out. The Saudi regime was implicated in Khashoggi’s death.

Some celebrities see their art outside of the political realm, York said.

“And then other celebs [are saying] no, no, that these are political decisions that you make.”

Beckham, for example, called the World Cup in Qatar last month a “platform for progress”.

Alexandra Nikolajev, a well-known sports and culture commentator at TikTok, says some celebrities have a “savior complex” that drives them to be involved in a particularly controversial event – because they want to be a bridge between divided parties.

“They feel [with] their presence is a representation of bringing the world together or opening up these channels of conversation and uniting people,” Nikolajev said.

Pop star Justin Bieber performs at a concert celebrating the end of Formula 1 in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia on December 5, 2021. (Amr Nabil/The Associated Press)

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