“Evolution happens in societies. It takes time and people may criticize something to begin with, but then understand it and get used to it,” said Qatar Museums Chairperson Sheikha al-Mayassa al-Thani, who is the sister of Qatar’s ruling emir.
She said the original site on the capital’s seafront corniche was “not right” and that the sculpture would be remounted at a new sports museum in Doha, which is hosting soccer’s World Cup later this year.
Some conservative Muslims believe artistic depictions of human forms should be forbidden to avoid idolatry. Although statues are on public display in many Muslim countries, they are less common in the Arab Gulf.
The sculpture by Algerian-born French artist Adel Abdessemed depicts the moment during extra time in the 2006 World Cup final when Zidane head-butted Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Zidane was sent off and Italy went on to beat France on penalties.
Al-Mayassa told reporters the aim of displaying the work was to promote conversations about “stress on athletes…and the importance of dealing with issues of mental health”.
“Zidane is a great friend of Qatar. And he’s a great role model for the Arab world,” she said. “Art, like anything else, is a matter of taste. Our goal is to empower people.”
The sculpture was not the only one to stir controversy in Doha. A series of 14 giant bronze ones depicting the gestation of a fetus, unveiled on the grounds of a maternity hospital in 2013, was concealed behind giant wooden hoardings before they were removed in 2018.