A black robe worn by Argentina captain Lionel Messi was given to him as a “mark of honour” as he lifted the World Cup trophy in Qatar.
The bisht – a thin see-through traditional Arab cloak – was placed on Messi by the Emir of Qatar before he joined his euphoric teammates as they celebrated their nail-biting victory over France.
Some viewers and broadcasters, unfamiliar with the garment and its significance, were left baffled but an academic explained that it was Qatar’s way of honouring Messi.
Dr Mustafa Baig, a lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, told the PA news agency that the bisht is a formal robe worn by royalty, dignitaries, grooms on their wedding day, and graduates at graduation ceremonies.
“So only a select few people would actually wear the bisht,” he said.
Speaking about Messi wearing the garment, Dr Baig said: “They basically honoured him by putting it over his shoulders.
“It’s like a mark of honour, and just kind of a cultural welcoming and a cultural acceptance.”
Dr Baig said it is also representative of Qatar’s national dress – but only at important occasions.
“And this is a top occasion. I mean, there’s probably no bigger occasion, so they put it on him as a mark of honour,” he said.
Dr Baig said he saw it as “an embrace by Messi of the local culture”, adding that it was “a pretty cool thing” for Qatar to do and “smart thinking” on their behalf.
He said the bisht is a garment more associated with Gulf countries and not commonplace in all Arab countries.
Asked what he thought people in the Gulf would have made of the moment, Dr Baig said they would have liked seeing it because they would have recognised it from special occasions in their own lives.
“They basically honoured him by putting that on, just to recognise him as kind of one of their own for that little moment,” he said.
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