Qataris aren’t happy about the Zinédine Zidane headbutt sculpture displayed in the Doha Corniche

The “Coup de tête” in front of the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year.
The “Coup de tête” in front of the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year.
Image: Reuters/Christian Hartmann
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The 2022 World Cup may be nine years away, but the Qatar Museums Authority is already going to great lengths to get its citizens in the spirit.

Last week, a behemoth, 5 meter bronze statue was installed on Doha’s corniche depicting French footballer Zinédine Zidane’s infamous headbutt on Italy’s Marcro Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final match. Zidane, who received FIFA’s Golden Ball award for best player in the tournament, retired after the incident, stating that he would “rather die than apologize” to Materazzi, who reportedly instigated the headbutt by making a derogatory remark about Zidane’s sister. The monument, officially known as Coup de tête, was created in 2012 by Adel Abdessemed, who like Zidane, is French and of Algerian descent.

To some, the sculpture may seem like a topical choice, but Jean Paul Engelen, director of Public Art at the Qatar Museums Authority, insists that Coup de tête‘s craftsmanship and symbolism are as timeless as Greek Mythological works of art.

Engelen told Doha News that the sculpture “glorifies human defects,” and “shows that although we sometimes treat footballers like gods, they’re not—they’re just human beings.” Engelen says he expects the sculpture will be popular with tourists, and it is just one of the many pieces Qatar has purchased in its effort to build a reputation as a cultural destination prior to the 2022 games.

And to this small, oil-rich country, money is no object in achieving that goal.

According to some estimates, Qatar’s art budget hovers around $1 billion dollars per year, and the country is buying such high-value pieces at such a rapid pace that it’s believed to have contributed to the escalation in international market prices. In 2011, Qatar paid over $250 million for Cézanne’s Card Players, setting the record for the highest price ever paid for a work of art.

But like just like everything else related to the 2022 gamesCoup de tête is already steeped in controversy. After the sculpture’s debut, reactions from Qataris have been mixed, with many demanding its removal. Under the trending Twitter hashtag #تمثال_زيدان_بالكورنيش (Zidane statue on the corniche) some Qataris have called the sculpture idolatrous while others think it’s simply tasteless.

One Qatari has even called for a religious fatwa on the sculpture, on the grounds that Zidane’s unsportsmanlike conduct was unethical.

Despite the criticisms, the Qatar Museum Authority has not announced any plans to remove the sculpture.