Richard Keys and Qatar: The PR circle of life

Date published: Friday 3rd November 2017 8:50 - Daniel Storey

With so much to worry about in our lives, it was great to get the news on Wednesday that there are no moral issues with the World Cup being held in Qatar in 2022.

You might have heard that thousands of Qatar World Cup workers are being subject to ‘life-threatening heat’, as per Human Rights Watch. You might have heard that 1,800 Nepalese, Indian and Bangladeshi workers have died building the infrastructure for the World Cup, as per law firm DLA Piper and the Washington Post. You might have heard that migrant workers are suffering conditions tantamount to slavery, as per Amnesty International. But then you heard from Richard Keys, the banter prince of English football broadcasting. And all was well.

We say English football broadcasting, but that description clearly merits an asterisk. Keysey, and we will henceforth address him as banter intended, has been living in Doha since 2013 after his unfortunate exit from Sky Sports. We’re extending the definition of ‘unfortunate’ to cover deliberate and proud sexism, misogyny and chauvinism being recorded in his workplace. Maybe even Lady Luck was tired of the ‘While you’re down there’ gags she’d heard in workplaces across the land.

‘There’s a lot of jealousy in the region. Trust me – 2922 (sic) will take place here! We’re all eating and drinking as well!!’ Keysey tweeted on Wednesday. He went on to clarify that those building the stadiums were also being similarly well fed and watered.

On reflection, and amid plenty of competition, it’s the double exclamation marks that are the finest element of this latest Keysey social media burp. They not only intimate ‘worrying about the Qatar World Cup is fake news’, but also ‘you have no idea how much free food I get with this gig’ and a large dose of ‘think you can’t drink in the Middle East? Have you seen how much champagne is in this fridge?’.

Perhaps we are doing Keysey a disservice. Maybe he has been using his afternoons off to visit the migrant workers of Qatar and truly experience their employment conditions – “Sorry Andy, no golf today. See you on the 19th hole!”. Does the balcony of his ivory tower give the perfect view into the Khalifa International Stadium, thus allowing him to talk to construction workers in a morning as he is turning up the collar of his polo shirt and watching the maid iron his smile? It is also possible that Keysey is recording a new mini-series for Channel 4 called ‘Your Key to Qatar: The bits the human rights organisations missed out’.

It’s just that our man doesn’t seem the hi-vis jacket and plastic helmet type, and all of his video diaries and social media selfies are taken with the backdrop of a faux-wooden bar complete with bottles of spirits in various lurid colours. Maybe he’s buying a round for the workers?

This is the indirect result of a man whose every wish is catered for. When your every whim is answered and you live your life surrounded by vast LED screens and runners, you lose the concept of what is real. If someone tells you that bid corruption and human rights issues are nothing to worry about, bid corruption and human rights issues are nothing to worry about. For Keysey, contrition is a show of weakness, not strength. Accepting the moral issues with his employment and the World Cup would be to take the first sledgehammer to his palace and see the asbestos under a thin layer of marble.

Keysey is the construct of an industry and a culture in which being famous and successful in front of a camera allowed you to behave as you saw fit off it. The word was talent, and he was the Word.

Lest we forget, this is a man who blamed Sky Sports’ “dark forces” for his exile from England only to welcome Qatar as a paymaster. That’s like having a crisis of conscience about the morality of working as an apprentice under Mister Geppetto before becoming Darth Vader’s right-hand man. You really do have to admire the chutzpah (and you will, right after you’ve finished shaking your head).

Mostly, Keysey can be ignored now, like a buzzing bluebottle shut in the kitchen while you watch the television with the sound up in the lounge. When he does occasionally crop up in our peripheral vision it is when one of his banter-teers, flown out to Doha on all-expenses paid trips to spout some rhetoric about the death of British coaching while simultaneously ignoring the concept of irony. “They come over here and take our jobs (in Qatari punditry).”

Yet Keysey’s audition for a role on the Qatari tourist information/propaganda board isn’t meaningless, and shouldn’t be ignored. There may be no storm blowing in his sound proof Doha box, but it might be worth him looking outside at the weather. Ignoring the deaths and mistreatment of migrant workers? That’s just not banter.

Daniel Storey

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