CIRS Faculty Research Workshops, FIFA World Cup Series, Regional Studies

Qatar’s World Cup Goals: Moving from the Periphery to the Center Working Group II

WG II Featured Image

On September 25 and 26, 2022, the Center for International and Regional Studies held the second working group under its research initiative, “Qatar’s World Cup Goals: Moving from the Periphery to the Center.” The meeting convened regional and international scholars who discussed their draft papers and received extensive feedback for revisions. The topics discussed at the meeting included Qatar Airways sponsorships, Paris Saint Germain and national identity, the World Cup and efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle in Qatar, Corporate Social Responsibility, the blockade of 2017, COVID-19 preparedness, and Qatar’s foreign policy in relation to the World Cup 2022. 

Danyel Reiche initiated the discussion with his chapter, “The Perception of Qatar Airways Sponsorships in Major European Football Clubs.” Reiche’s paper analyzed Qatar Airways’ sponsorships of three major European football clubs: FC Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, and FC Paris Saint-Germain, and discussed how sponsorship arrangements have been perceived by different stakeholders in the three clubs. Outlining Qatar Airways’ sports sponsorship portfolio, Reiche argued that over the years Qatar’s standing has become stronger at the elite levels of European football but more work needs to be done at the grassroots level. The chapter provides deeper insight into why these sponsorships were and remain controversial, and whether Qatar has used these sports sponsorships effectively to gain soft power.

Andreas Flouris’s chapter addresses whether being awarded the World Cup has prompted Qatar to focus on policies and programs to support a healthy lifestyle in the country. In his chapter, “The 2022 FIFA World Cup and the Quest for Healthy Living in Qatar,” Flouris suggests that while the World Cup has led to economic and infrastructural development in the country, it remains to be seen whether the initiatives carried out as part of the World Cup preparation will have a longer-term impact on the adoption of a healthy lifestyle by the population.

Continuing the discussion on health-related issues, Kamilla Swart briefly updated the group on her chapter which will be examining the World Cup 2022 and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Her paper will look at other mega sporting events hosted by Qatar during the pandemic, and how these supported Qatar’s efforts to deliver a safe and secure World Cup in 2022. 

Ross Griffin’s chapter, “Identity Matters: Qatar, QSI, and Paris Saint-Germain” focuses on Qatari national identity expressed through the ownership of the French football club. Ross argues that after its purchase by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, Paris Saint German was transformed into one of the most glamorous football clubs in the world, with high levels of success. Ross states that there is a significant absence of academic work on Qatar’s motivations in purchasing PSG, and how ownership of the club has enabled the state to engage in national identity performance on the global stage. In his chapter, Ross examines the forms of national identity that Qatar is performing through its ownership of PSG, how this identity is performed, and why PSG serves as the desired medium for performing this identity.

Uday Chandra and Aisha Al-Kuwari’s chapter, “Popular Culture and the World Cup,” focuses on football fandom and popular culture in Doha. Using vernacular sources and interviews they argue that the evolution of football fandom in Doha can be best understood through historic neighborhood clubs, known as furjan, and through the culture of football spectatorship in the Qatari majaalis. The paper’s secondary intervention is in its highlighting of the voices of the migrant communities present in Doha, their expressions of inclusion and participation in the World Cup, as well as their broader forms of patriotism to the country. By bringing both the citizen and migrant dimensions together, this contribution explores how local popular culture in Doha shapes and is shaped by the World Cup. 

The next session was led by Irene Theodoropoulou on her chapter, “Good Things Come from Small Places: Communicating Qatar to World Cup Tourists.” The paper examines the discursive and linguistic means through which the World Cup 2022 is communicated to the world. Theodoropoulou detailed the three phases of the communication strategy, “Expect Amazing”, “Deliver Amazing”, and “Now is All.” She argued that Qatar has employed the three phases not only to tackle the negative image but also to put itself on the global tourist map, to rebrand itself, and to establish tourism as one of its basic revenue sectors post World Cup in order to diversify its economy.

Sebastian Sons paper, “Creating Sports Humanitarianism: The Nexus of Qatar’s Development Assistance and Sport,” analyzed Qatar’s efforts to link its humanitarian aid policy with sports. Sons stated that Qatar has emerged as a relevant provider of development assistance in recent years, and has made sport an integral part of its developmental aid. In doing so, Qatar has aimed to present itself as a promoter of humanitarianism, physical activity, and a healthy lifestyle. It also seeks to compete with regional neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which are also following a similar policy in terms of sports development. Sons paper focuses on Qatar’s developmental policy and its close interlinkages with sport, and aims to contribute to the academic discussion on sport as a driver for development.

Paul Brannagan led a session discussion on “Soft Power as ‘Beauty, Brilliance, Benignity’: the Case of the Aspire Zone Elite Sports.” Brannagan’s paper aims to provide an analysis of Qatar’s state-of-the-art elite sports complex, Aspire Zone. Using the lens of ‘beauty’, ‘brilliance’ and ‘benignity,’ he discussed how this elite athlete complex generates soft power for Qatar so far and will add to it post World Cup ear. Building on previous academic works on Aspire Zone, the paper examines how Qatar has used soft power to carve out an attractive global profile in global sports. 

Kathy Babiak’s paper, “FIFA World Cup 2022: The Role of Corporate Social Responsibility as a Vehicle for Qatar’s Development Goals,” looked at the CSR of the key stakeholders responsible for organizing the World Cup in Qatar. Babiak discussed the concept of CSR and its link to firm strategy and national development. She argued that sport has been used to drive broader strategic development goals by all types of businesses, rights holders, organizing committees, sports organizations, and nations around the world. International sports governing bodies such as FIFA, sports sponsors, and other interested parties have amplified the global business of sports and have used the power of sports to influence positive social change. Babiak’s contribution will aim to examine and better understand how CSR is enacted by local and international stakeholders of mega events such as the World Cup, and how it can help to advance social change and position firms, sports organizations, and even host countries as positive agents of social impact.  

Hissa Al-Kubaisi shifted the discussion to Qatar’s foreign policy with her paper, “The World Cup and Shifts in Qatar’s Foreign Policy.” Al-Kubaisi stated that the academic literature on small states claims that a change in leadership does not have an effect on the foreign policies of small states. She argued against this concept and specified that in the case of Qatar there was a strong shift in foreign policy after 2010 which can be associated with two events, the awarding of hosting the FIFA World Cup 2022 in 2010 and the change in leadership in 2013. The paper will examine how, following a change in leadership in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar’s foreign policy has shifted to and is now based on mediation and diplomacy, which is more aligned with the values of the World Cup.

The working group discussion was brought to a close by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, who presented his paper, “Qatar: Between the Blockade and the World Cup?” Ulrichen’s chapter looked at the 2017 blockade of Qatar by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt and examined how the blockade affected Qatar’s preparations for the World Cup. He analyzed the steps that were undertaken by policymakers in Qatar to overcome the domestic, regional, and international challenges that arose in and after 2017. Outlining the aspects of the blockade and the ways it intersected with the World Cup preparations, the paper explores issue of political risk and the climate of uncertainty created by the blockading states and the measures that were implemented to strengthen Qatar’s domestic resilience and to solidify its regional and international partnerships. Finally, it looks at the legacy of the blockade and the twelve-year-long World Cup preparations. 

The contributors will revise their paper drafts based on the feedback received. CIRS will gather the final chapter submissions into an edited volume to be published by a university press.

Participants and Discussants: 

  • Aisha Al Kuwari, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Hissa Al Kubaisi, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Zahra Babar, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Kathy Babiak, University of Michigan
  • Misba Bhatti, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Paul Brannagan, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
  • Susan Dun, Northwestern University in Qatar
  • Uday Chandra, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Rice University
  • Andreas Flouris, University of Ottawa
  • Ross Griffin, Qatar University
  • Craig LaMay, Northwestern University in Qatar
  • Suzi Mirgani, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Anne Nebel, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Zarqa Parvez, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Danyel Reiche, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Sebastian Sons, Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO)
  • Kamilla Swart, Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU)
  • Irene Theodoropoulou, Qatar University
  • Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS – Georgetown University Qatar
  • Clyde Wilcox, Georgetown University in Qatar

Article by Misba Bhatti, Research Analyst at CIRS