In Depth

David Beckham: Self-interest does not undermine charity work

Claims that the former England captain wanted a knighthood do not make him a hypocrite – it could be the opposite

David Beckham's image has taken a battering since hacked emails appeared to show that he used his charity work to lobby for a knighthood and was furious when he didn't get one.

In one message he appeared to brand the Honours Committee "unappreciative c***s" for not offering him a knighthood in 2013 and he apparently refused a lesser award, writing: "Unless it's a knighthood f*** off".

Other emails suggest that he was annoyed when Unicef asked him to donate £1m and that he objected to opera singer Katherine Jenkins being given an OBE.

Beckham's management team say the messages have been doctored and taken out of context, but the story has prompted fierce criticism from acid-tongued commentators including Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir, who branded him a "narcissistic schemer", and Piers Morgan who somehow managed to draw a parallel with Jimmy Savile on Twitter.

But sports writers have come out on the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star's side.

His critics are guilty of a "logic-leap that trashes good intentions and ends up casting essentially decent people as fame-crazed devils", says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph. "His only crime... is jockeying for position in the fame game the way he once used his elbows in a football shirt. He is being competitive, measuring his worth, comparing himself to others on his level. He probably did the same in the Manchester United and Real Madrid dressing rooms. Katherine Jenkins? What has she ever won?"

It's clear the urge to do charitable work came before the desire for a knighthood, he adds.

What's more the honours system is "rife with cronyism and premature ennoblement", says Hayward, who notes that gifts to political parties or "other forms of obsequiousness" are often the quickest way to acquire one.

Beckham, once again, finds himself "on the wrong end of relentless snobbery... rooted in the old idea that footballers, however rich, should know their place".

Altrusim and self-interest are not mutually exclusive, says Matthew Syed of The Times. Indeed, research suggests that helping yourself while helping others maintains motivation enabling them to do more good. 

"Beckham has given many weeks to Unicef. He has personally donated millions and his fund has raised millions more. He also donated his Paris Saint-Germain wages of about £1.5 million to a French children's hospital in 2013," says Syed. 

"OK, so he wanted kudos. He wished for a knighthood, too... But this isn't hypocrisy; it is human. Those who dislike the honours system may wonder why anyone would want one of these baubles, but that is a different issue. 

"True hypocrisy consists of judging those who wish to be recognised for their good works, for it contains the implication that only they are motivated by pure, untainted altruism."

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