DOHA, Qatar — Watching Sunday’s World Cup final, Ahmed al-Salem was more emotional than most soccer fans as the emir of Qatar placed a black and gold cape on the shoulders of Argentina’s winning captain, Lionel Messi.
The outfit Messi wore to lift the soccer trophy was a $2,200 “bisht,” a traditional suit worn by men at weddings, graduations and official events — and it was made by a family-owned business in Salem.
The gesture has sparked an international debate on social media about its appropriateness.
Salem watched Argentina beat France in a cafe near the family’s shop in Doha’s Souq Waqif market, having earlier handed over two delicate hand-made robes to World Cup officials – one in Messi’s diminutive size and the other taller to French captain Hugo Lloris.
“We didn’t know who they were for and I was amazed,” he told AFP of the moment the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, donned Messi’s cloak.
Salem recognized his company’s tag and is now celebrating his own World Cup victory.
The Al-Salem store, a long-time bishti supplier to the Qatari royals, usually sells 8-10 garments a day.
On Monday, the day after the final, sales rose to 150, including three copies of the high-end bisque made famous by Messi, Salem said.
“At one point there were dozens waiting outside the store,” he said.
“They were almost all Argentine,” he added as he watched eight supporters of the new world champions sing their “Muchchos” (mates) anthem and take pictures of themselves wearing flimsy bish and carrying a replica World Cup trophy.
The bisht boom
A stream of fans entered the store as Salem spoke to AFP, and they all applauded the Emir’s gesture.
“We were all happy when we saw it, it was a gift from one king to another,” said Mauricio Garcia as he tried on the cloak but decided the price tag was too high to buy.
Some commentators, mainly Europeans, criticized the covering of Messi’s shirt for the trophy presentation.
But Arab social media users welcomed the moment.
Salem and other Arab commentators explained that the intention was to “honor” Messi and that the gesture had been misunderstood.
“When a sheikh dresses a person in bisti, it means respecting and valuing that person,” Salem said.
It was a “very important moment” for Qatar as it seeks to increase publicity for the World Cup, said Carole Gomez, a professor of sports sociology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
“These images are widely distributed, preserved and republished,” he said.
Salem said when World Cup officials went to his store “they wanted the lightest, most transparent fabric.”
“I was surprised because we are in winter, so it seems the aim was to show the Argentine uniform and not cover it up,” he said.
Bishti is used in many Gulf countries, but Al-Salem is the largest of about five producers in Qatar, employing about 60 tailors.
Each piece takes a week to make and takes seven steps to complete, with different workers adding different gold braids to the front and arms.
Messi’s bishi gold thread came from Germany and Najafi cotton fabric was imported from Japan.