Sports diplomacy: Qatar also won the World Cup

Although small in size, Qatar has been experiencing economic prosperity since the 1970s. The main reason for this is the huge reserves of fossil fuels. Currently, Qatar is one of the top 10 countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity. Being a rich country, Qatar has been able to enter the international arena on the one hand, and has continued to try to present itself in that environment. An example can be said about football. Qatar, like other Gulf countries, has been investing in sports, especially football, for several years. Qatar believes that sport is an effective means of building diplomatic relations and gaining reputation with different countries. Their strategy exploded around World Cup football. However, the process by which Qatar obtained permission to host the 2022 World Cup from FIFA is controversial. For nearly a decade, journalists have said at various times that Qatar would never have received this permission if not for widespread corruption. Fifa itself is on edge of their complaints. There is no way to dismiss the allegations of journalists. The United States Department of Justice brought charges of money laundering and fraud against several FIFA officials a year ago. According to the US office, Qatar bribed FIFA senior officials with 150 million dollars to get enough votes to host the World Cup. In the face of criticism, FIFA’s condemned ex-president Sepp Blatter admitted and said, ‘There are irregularities in the selection process of which country will host the 2022 World Cup. The decision to select Qatar as the host country was wrong.’ However, despite widespread criticism in the media, Qatar took full advantage of the golden opportunity to host the World Cup. The country spends approximately 22 billion dollars on this event. Of this amount, one billion dollars is spent on stadium construction and the rest is spent on road development, security and hospitality. Apart from these expenses, the government of Qatar spends on the support of David Beckham, Gary Neville and some other football stars. In addition, Qatar has not spent less on increasing public relations (PR) and controlling the media to maintain the country’s image. In 2014, a British news channel reported that Qatar had hired a global PR firm to deal with the controversy surrounding the World Cup. Meanwhile, with the 2022 World Cup in mind, the country’s one-by-one investment in the international football arena is quite noticeable. A week after being nominated to host the World Cup in 2010, the Qatari non-profit Qatar Foundation signed a $220 million deal with Spanish club Barcelona to sponsor sports kits. A few months later, French club PSG was bought by the country’s investment authority. Besides, between 2004 and 2022, Qatar organized 24 tournaments including Asian Games, World Athletics Championships.

Knowing that the 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar, there was a storm of criticism worldwide. Fifa’s decision is hotly debated. The World Cup was finally held in Qatar and quite successfully. Qatar is widely praised in the international arena for hosting the World Cup. The country has benefited from this. Some say different things. Trisha Barua wrote about Qatar’s far-reaching plans around the World Cup

Starting with Morocco reaching the semi-finals and Germany’s elimination from the group stage, this year’s World Cup in Qatar gave the audience one surprise after another. Many people may think that these are not events, unexpected events can happen on the playground, the most amazing event happened a century before the start of the game! what is that According to them, FIFA surprised everyone by giving Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Nothing compares to their surprise decision in 2010. They couldn’t figure out how a country with no football history, no tradition, no enough stadiums, no hotels, no highways, how a small Gulf state can host an important tournament like the World Cup. Qatar has a population of less than 3 million. 90 percent of them are migrant workers. In such a context, naturally, many could not understand how FIFA gave the country the responsibility of organizing the world’s largest sporting event. Anyway, it goes without saying that Qatar has given jutsui answers to these questions of people. After 12 years, Qatar has shown through a grand event that everything is possible if there is money, history and tradition are not needed. However, while organizing this World Cup, Qatar has to face criticism from other sides. International human rights observers have accused the country of unfair treatment of migrant workers, including bribery and corruption, several times over the past decade. According to a report last year by the British newspaper The Guardian, more than 6,500 migrant workers died in the Arabian Peninsula country of Qatar from 2010 to 2021. At that time, thousands of workers were forced to work in inhuman conditions in the country. They were also subjected to torture at work. In addition to these complaints about migrant workers, there has been criticism of the Qatari government’s conservative stance towards the rights of the LGBTQ community. Amidst calls to change the World Cup venue and threats of boycott, in the end more than 5 billion people around the world watched the tournament and more than 1 million people went to the Arabian Gulf to enjoy the tournament. Argentina’s World Cup victory on December 18 was the curtain call for the event. The question in many people’s minds is whether the World Cup brought Qatar’s human rights violations to the fore or cleared the country’s reputation.

In the 1990s, the American political scientist Joseph Nye said that the ancient concept of dependence on military power and resources is largely obsolete in this era of globalization. In order to become powerful in the international arena, the emerging countries have to do the politics of attraction. They need to be associated with something through which they can present their culture to the world and thereby influence the world. Needless to say, sports diplomacy is the best medium in this regard and this diplomacy is part of soft power. The question may arise, what is this soft power? In politics, soft power refers to the ability of an emerging country to persuade countries that criticize it to come into its own fold without engaging in conflict. Once in the group, it is no longer possible for the criticizing countries to continue criticizing. Mainly the work of pulling in this party is done through petitions and bribes. Stuart Murray, associate professor of international relations at Australia’s Bond University, said that using the game can change the thinking of foreign visitors and institutions, and attract them. Through this, the implementation of foreign policy goals becomes quite easy. In an article entitled Qatar’s Global Sports Strategy, Jonathan Grix, Paul Michael Branagan and Donna Lee state, ‘By hosting the Games, countries can present their cultural, social and political values ​​to an international audience.’ In this World Cup, the people of the world witness these things very well. Notable among them was the award ceremony after Argentina’s victory over France in the final. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, put a black robe on Lionel Messi before handing over the cup to the winning team’s footballer. The Arabs call that Alkhalla Bisht. Traditional clothing is usually worn by Arab men from kings to dignitaries, grooms on wedding days, Eid and other religious festivals.

Mustafa Baig, a lecturer in the Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in England, said, “The Emir of Qatar honored Messi by wearing a bishat. This is the cultural tradition of modern times in Arabia. The strategy of using sport to strengthen diplomatic relations is not new. Such incident happened in 1971 also. That year, table tennis players from the United States and China faced each other. US President Richard Nixon visited China the following year in what became known as ping pong diplomacy. This diplomacy ended 23 years of bitter relations between China and the United States.

According to experts, Qatar has succeeded in several areas by hosting the World Cup. Qatar’s engagement with international partners will undoubtedly increase now more than ever. At the same time, the country has the potential to be ahead of regional rivals in foreign investment and tourism industry. World press coverage of Qatar hosting the World Cup was overwhelmingly negative. They are particularly concerned about the country’s human rights violations and labor oppression. Sports writer David Goldblatt said, “It’s all relative.” How Qatar is perceived depends on which newspaper people read. Many media including BBC, Guardian expressed concern about human rights violations in Qatar around the World Cup, demanding an investigation into the death of migrant workers. On the other hand, the US media, Fox News, is noticeably silent on the matter, and almost every media outlet in the Gulf countries, including Al Jazeera, publishes very positive reports about the World Cup.

As mentioned earlier, Qatar spent a lot of money on PR agencies and domestic and foreign media to increase public relations and print news on their behalf in view of the World Cup. There is no doubt that hosting the World Cup was more diplomatic than economic for Qatar. Still, the economic benefits of the World Cup cannot be dismissed. According to the Qatar Investment Promotion Agency, foreign investment and GDP in the country increased significantly after Qatar was named as the host in 2010. According to the International Monetary Fund, Qatar’s economy will grow by 3.4 percent in 2022 and 2023 due to the World Cup. Qatar is currently in an advantageous position over neighboring Arab countries by opening the door to diplomatic relations, keeping the world’s attention away from human rights abuses as much as possible and benefiting economically. So if it is said that Messi’s team Argentina is not the only country that has won the World Cup this year, Qatar has also won in many cases, then it may not be too much.

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