From Nationalism to Internationalism: Sports Policies and Qatar’s International Status

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Sports are no longer seen as merely a competitive field. The participation and organization of sports events affect the participating and hosting countries at different social, economic, and political levels. On the one hand, sports can be used as a means of soft power to quell public sentiment, and, on the other, sports events can be viewed as a tool for developing patriotism and achieving national unity. Consequently, many countries, including Qatar, are currently seeking to enhance their position regionally and internationally by taking a series of interlinked actions in order to achieve envisioned policy goals. In the area of sports policies, for instance, and in accordance with Qatar National Vision 2030, the Qatari government has invested heavily in developing sports infrastructure with the aim of becoming an international destination for hosting major sports events in the region and a key player in the sporting events industry.    

According to “role theory,” the state’s role in the international arena is linked to the perceptions that public policymakers hold about the place of their respective states in the international order. Accordingly, the role of the state and the functional connotations associated with such a role are determined in light of the commitments and decisions made by policymakers. Such decisions and the resulting consequences shape the way in which countries behave on the international stage. The theory also emphasizes the need to exploit the state’s capabilities in order to support its international position. This can be done based on individual initiatives and efforts exerted by single states. Nonetheless, the net value could be much higher should such states form partnerships with regional counterparts. Such collaborative partnerships may facilitate the successful organization and hosting of sports events by capitalizing on each partner’s strengths.     

Over the years, the Qatari government has devoted an important segment of its efforts to sports as a major bloc in the state’s public policies. Such efforts have resulted in producing the required policy documents, including the Qatar National Vision 2030, Sports Sector Strategy 2011–2016, Culture and Sports Sector Strategy 2017–2022, and Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030. As clearly stated by the Qatari Olympic Committee in its vision, the aim is to bring the world together by hosting sports events, taking into account the aspect of sustainability. In that sense, by focusing on stimulating the role of sports in society and organizing major sports events, Qatar’s public policies are considered to be a positive factor in building the role of the state and enhancing its reputation regionally and globally. Consequently, hosting major sports events, such as the World Cup 2022, can be regarded as an effective policy tool for the country to demonstrate the strength of its political and economic systems.

Sports policy tools, such as sports tourism, besides hosting and organizing sports events have been effectively utilized by the Qatari government in order to enhance its position on the world stage. To this end, Qatar has relied on a set of determinants, especially those related to its ability to organize successful sports events. Qatar’s sports record is full of many successes with regard to hosting sports events and tournaments at regional and international levels. For instance, Qatar hosted the Asian qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup, in addition to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1995. Furthermore, in 2004, Qatar hosted the 17th Arabian Gulf Cup and the West Asian Games in 2005. Moreover, in 2015, Qatar hosted the World Men’s Handball Championship. Accordingly, it can be stated that sports policies have been devised by the Qatari government in order to cross the political borders of the state and to shift from nationalism to internationalism. In other words, by investing in the sports sector and by hosting such successful sports events and tournaments, Qatari officials have succeeded in improving the role that Qatar plays and have shifted the boundaries of such a role from national and regional levels to an international one, with Qatar emerging as an international sporting event destination.  

Despite the efforts exerted by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, for Qatari sports officials and policymakers to continue on the path of enhancing and sustaining Qatar’s role at regional and international levels, there is a need to collaboratively organize more events in order to introduce Qatar’s sports vision to potential partners. In this regard, securing the cooperation of local partners, including Aspire and Qatar Olympic Committee, would help introduce the core components of Qatar’s sports vision inside and outside Qatar. Furthermore, designing and implementing a designated media policy for the 2022 World Cup could be an effective way to shed more light on the efforts made by Qatar to achieve its policy goals. This policy should revolve around the key strengths that Qatar has in comparison to the other potential competitors with regard to hosting the 2022 World Cup. 

Moreover, it is necessary to activate partnerships between Qatar and its neighboring Arab countries. States such as the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have many sports facilities that can be used for co-hosting and co-organizing future sports events. In addition, these countries have also established organizations, such as Dubai Sports Council and the Saudi Ministry of Sports, that may provide a solid foundation for sports partnerships at the regional level. In this context, Qatar may facilitate the positive participation of such partners in organizing and hosting a successful World Cup tournament in 2022. Activating these partnerships proves the positivity and aspiration of Qatar to establish and enhance its pivotal role at the regional and international levels. It also goes hand in hand with the current trend of co-hosting major sports events such as the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Article by Ahmed Badran, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Department of International Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University

Ahmed Badran is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Department of International Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Exeter. Badran’s research interests extend to cover different areas of policy studies, including regulatory governance and politics of sports.

Read more about the Building a Legacy: Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 project here.