Lionel Messi And The Meaning Of The Bisht

This year’s World Cup Final in Qatar will be remembered for one iconic image: Lionel Messi – having won the competition with Argentina – celebrating both the win and a record-breaking career while wearing a bisht.

Placed around the Captain’s shoulders by Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani just seconds before Messi lifted the trophy, the bisht became a talking point in media around the world. In a development that may have seemed strange to the host country, some Western media chose to criticize the gifting of the bisht in this poignant moment.

However, this demonstrates perhaps a fundamental misunderstanding of what the bisht is, what it means, and where it comes from.

Traditionally this long cloak of sheer fabric and gold trimming is worn by victors and at special occasions. It may be worn by the groom at a wedding, by royalty, and can be seen in some form all over the world worn by graduates on their day of graduation.

It is a way to mark out and celebrate heroes of the hour, to bestow the greatest respect upon them, and to symbolize their high status.

Lionel Messi undoubtedly earned this status throughout his career, but especially as the captain of the winning team. A different sized bisht had also been prepared for the French captain, had France taken the trophy instead.

Rather than being a Qatar-specific garment, the wearing of the bisht is a wider regional tradition, and symbolic of this competition being held in an Arab country for the first time in history.

Much like Pele donning a sombrero when the World Cup was held in Mexico, and winners at the Athens Olympics being crowned with olive wreaths, this was a way for the hosts to mark the occasion as one which occurred in an Arabic country, and to memorialize it as such in the photographs that ensued.

For some critics this has been viewed as a negative thing to do, despite the fact that it makes perfect sense. The place in which the World Cup happens is important, and each host nation hopes to make its mark on the competition in its own unique way. Qatar has been no different, and that is what the competition is all about; the very reason it moves around the world in the way it does. As we have discussed in our comment on the opening ceremony, Qatar has showcased its tradition and culture throughout the competition wherever it has been appropriate and symbolic.

Ultimately this was a way for the Arab world to show the highest respect for the competition winners, while also creating a photographic legacy of the occasion, making winners of all involved.