Following his appearance as a guest presenter on ‘Have I Got News For You’ Gary Neville has found himself in an uncomfortable spotlight. As he comes under scrutiny for his latest endeavour, chief sports writer for the Telegraph Oliver Brown has gone on a scathing rant about Neville’s moral compass.
Brown, early on in his report, decries Neville for being a hypocrite and it was Ian Hislop, a captain on the show, who backed up his point.
Brown writes, “The editor of ‘Private Eye’ has lacerated politicians of all stripes for the contradictions between what they say in public and what they do in private. With Neville as guest presenter, he was handed perhaps the greatest open goal of all.”
As the subject turned to the World Cup, David Beckham and Robbie Williams were called out for their involvement in the Qatar World Cup.
As Brown put it though, “they danced around the fact that their host had just struck a sweet deal with Doha’s very own beIN Sports.”
Hislop questioned on the show, “The others have been very gentle with you but the elephant in the room is still there. You’re commentating there, aren’t you?”
Neville defiantly confirmed he was. “My view has always been that you highlight the abuses in these countries, or you don’t say anything and stay back home.”
Hislop countered, “There’s another option, you stay at home and highlight the abuses. You don’t have to take the Qataris’ money.” The audience cheered as Neville was flabbergasted.
Brown takes us back through previous comments Neville has made. In May, the former United defender took to Instagram to declare, “I’m not a socialist, I’m a capitalist. I believe in entrepreneurialism. I believe in companies making profit. I believe in lower taxes.”
Brown goes on to point out that five months later he was pictured next to Keir Starmer, stating that the conservatives were a cancer on the UK.
Perhaps Neville’s foray into politics is somewhat misguided and inconsistent, but Brown’s biggest criticism of Neville is the part he is playing in the World Cup, going on to highlight that his experiences in Qatar will be far removed from the people who have to live and work there day to day.
And though Neville has stated he will highlight the abuses, Brown is sceptical. “He will not be breaking off from an analysis of Harry Kane’s positioning to inveigh against Qatar’s laws on homosexuality.”
Neville is a football man though – his job was never to get involved in the politics of it all, his job was simply to report on the game itself, as an expert in that field. He is not an expert in international law or in human rights, and his voice has no authority within FIFA.
Although it is doubtful Neville needs the money, it is his job to report on the action and the majority of those criticising Neville’s stance will no doubt be watching the action themselves, even if it is just from their own homes, and surely that in itself is hypocritical?
To truly make a stand against the Qatari regime, everyone would need to boycott the tournament, but I doubt Brown will be refusing to switch on his telly or refrain from commenting on any of the action.
Although Neville will no doubt speak up when he sees fit, Brown says it’s too little, too late.
Neville is receiving much more stick than David Beckham who is, as Brown puts it, receiving “£10 million as World Cup propagandist-in-chief” but he goes on to argue that this is because Beckham keeps his political views more “abstract.”
So are we punishing Neville for his stance on the World Cup or because he has spoken out previously on other political issues?
By this logic, should we be calling out Marcus Rashford for wanting to be a part of the England squad heading to Qatar? He has a moral compass and has become embroiled in political issues in this country over the past few years. The vast majority of us agreed with his points and campaigns but we would also like him to represent his country on the world footballing stage. Should he be held to account for heading out there? Well, no, that would be ridiculous.
Brown concludes his argument saying “it means that Neville’s posturing as football’s moral policeman cannot be taken seriously ever again.”
Although I see his point, Neville is merely a football pundit with a knowledge and a passion for the beautiful game. It feels like he is being made a scapegoat, a bad guy who never really had any authority to change the landscape of this World Cup or anyone else’s thoughts on it.
If Neville took a stand and refused to go, what would it achieve? Would Qatar change it’s laws? Would they attempt to improve their human rights record? Would the World Cup no longer be held here? The answer is no.
So, I agree in one respect with Oliver Brown – it is too little, too late. But the finger of blame should not be pointed at Gary Neville or any other journalist or pundit trying to do their jobs but at the organisations and governing bodies who actually have a say in these decisions.