Despite the protests, celebrities have their reasons for appearing at the World Cup
Some see an opportunity to promote global unity, experts say. Or get a big paycheque
Just a few days before the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar, the British pop singer Dua Lipa took to Instagram to shut down the rumours: She wouldn't 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've spoken out about the controversial decision to have Qatar host the international soccer competition.
The country has been criticized for its discriminatory stance against 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 to clean up its migrant labour situation.
Britpop star Rod Stewart said in a recent interview that he had turned down over $1 million to perform at the Cup.
"It's not right to go," he told The Times.
But an even longer list of high-profile figures have chosen to appear, some apparently seeing the games as an opportunity to promote a message of global unity.
Singer and soccer fan Akon told TMZ he doesn't understand the purpose of a boycott, by fans in general, against the World Cup.
"Me personally, I think everywhere you go in the world there's different cultures, different way of living, different life standards," he said.
Indeed, a slew of musicians from Calvin Harris to Diplo to Canadian-Moroccan singer Nora Fatehi are set to perform at the 2022 FIFA Fan Festival. Morgan Freeman appeared at the Cup's opening ceremony on Nov. 20, as did Jung-Kook of the K-pop supergroup BTS.
Nicki Minaj, Colombian singer Maluma, and Lebanese singer Myriam Fares collaborated on the World Cup official anthem, Tukoh Taka.
And David Beckham was paid a reported $241 million US for serving as one of Qatar's celebrity ambassadors.
Working for a sporting mega-event like the World Cup or Olympics can certainly be highly lucrative. When there's so much money involved, celebrities can rationalize anything, says Tim Elcombe, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
"But then you also see celebrities using this as an opportunity to challenge and critique what's going on," said Elcombe, who researches the intersection of sports, politics and culture.
"Because there's this culture, particularly within the arts, of artists being politically engaged and politically involved."
The presence of stars can divert attention away from any transgressions by the host country.
It's what some people call "sportswashing," said Lorraine York, a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Hamilton.
"Like celebrity itself, these events are instances of heightened visibility, heightened social visibility, and so they become also ways in which nations project images of themselves," said York.
Justin Bieber, for example, performed at a Formula One race in Saudi Arabia despite calls from fans, and even an open letter from slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi's wife, to drop out. The Saudi regime was implicated in Khashoggi's death.
Some celebrities see their art as existing outside of the political realm, York said.
"And then other celebrities [are saying] no, no, that these are political decisions that one makes."
Beckham, for instance, last month called the Qatar World Cup a "platform for progress."
Alexandra Nikolajev, a noted sports and culture commentator on TikTok, says some celebrities have a "saviour complex" that drives them to be involved in a particularly contentious event — because they want to be a bridge between divided parties.
"They feel like [with] their presence, there is a representation of bringing the world together or opening up those channels of conversation and uniting people," said Nikolajev.