After 28 days, 64 games and 172 goals at Qatar 2022, Lionel Messi stepped onto the podium at Lusail Stadium to finally get his hands on the World Cup trophy that had eluded him throughout his career.
Before joining his teammates, who awaited their captain in a hive of excitement on a nearby stage, Messi first shook hands with FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Tamim then placed a black and gold bisht – a traditional garment worn in the region for special events and celebrations – on the Argentina captain before the 35-year-old was presented with the trophy.
In his new kit, which covered his pale blue and white national jersey, Messi danced towards his teammates before lifting the trophy above his head.
It was, for some, the perfect end to a tournament considered by many to be the best World Cup ever.
However, for others, it ruined the moment.
“It seems a shame that they covered Messi in his Argentina shirt,” former England international and presenter Gary Lineker said during the BBC’s live coverage of the final.
For others, it was a last ditch attempt for Qatar to put its mark on the tournament – a critique of ‘sportswashing’ (where critics accused Qatar of using the opportunity to cover up its record on human rights) that underpinned much of the coverage of The Tournament.
“Something a bit odd about Messi wearing Bisht, that black coat that the Emir of Qatar put on him before he lifted the World Cup,” New York Times reporter Tariq Panja said. tweeted.
“Qatar want this to be their moment as much as Messi’s and Argentina’s.”
There was more criticism from other outlets, with Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper originally writing the headline ‘The bizarre act that ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history’ in reference to Messi wearing the bisht.
He then changed the title of the story to “Lionel Messi wore the traditional Arabic bisht to lift the World Cup trophy”.
Messi didn’t wear the garment for long, taking it off shortly after the trophy was presented and celebrating with his teammates in Argentina’s distinctive shirt.
Amid criticism, Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), an organization responsible for organizing the World Cup, tried to explain the reasons behind the bisht.
“It’s a dress for an official occasion and worn for celebrations. It was a celebration of Messi,” Al Thawadi told BBC Sport.
“The World Cup had the opportunity to show the world our Arab and Muslim culture. It wasn’t about Qatar, it was a regional party.
“People from different backgrounds were able to come, experience what was happening here and understand that we may not agree on everything, but we can always celebrate together.”
Others on social media were outraged by the bisht’s criticism, saying he was steeped in ignorance and misunderstanding of Qatar’s culture.
It was another example, they said, of the constant criticism the country has received since winning the right to host the tournament.
“Some are mad because Messi wore a bisht (it was given to him; a symbol of appreciation and respect in Arab culture),” writer and columnist Reem Al-Harmi tweeted.
“However, I didn’t see the same level of anger and outrage when racism, Islamophobia and Orientalism were constantly used against the World Cup in Qatar.
“Instead of preconceived ideas and judgments, turning this beautiful and meaningful photo into something that is not, read about the Arabic bisht; its importance, and why/when it is worn.
“Giving someone a bisht shows how important/respectful he is, that’s Messi today.”
CNN has reached out to FIFA for comment on the decision to use the bisht at the presentation ceremony.
Messi hasn’t publicly commented on the bisht.