How Powerful has Qatar become in Elite Sport?

Nadim Nassif

Sport has become a major tool for foreign policy and an important way of developing a country’s soft power. A nation can make a statement in its international diplomacy by hosting major sport events, by making its professional leagues visible, and through the performance of its athletes in international competitions.  

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Qatar has strongly engaged in a policy of organizing major sport events. It hosted the 2006 Asian Games along with world championships in table tennis, weightlifting, sailing, volleyball, athletics, handball, aquatics, boxing, cycling, and gymnastics. This soft power strategy has culminated in winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, making Qatar the first Arab country to have succeeded in this endeavor. In the “Global Sports Impact (GSI) Nations Index,” established by the Sports Market Intelligence’s company “Sportcal,” which measures the countries’ performances in organizing global sport events, Qatar is currently ranked 17th in the world.

In the “Ranking of Sports Cities,” established by the multinational firm “Burson Cohn & Wolfe” to evaluate the performance of cities in the hosting of sport events based on digital landscape analysis, sports media, and international federations surveys, Doha has made the top 50 since 2012. This is impressive, considering there are an estimated 10,000 cities around the world.

If Qatar is a powerhouse in the organization of mega-sport events, the same cannot be said about the performance of its athletes in international competitions. In the World Ranking of Countries in Elite Sport (WRCES) index, which measures the performance of countries in the sports recognized by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), Qatar made the top 80 only twice since the first edition of this index, finishing 67th in 2015 and 80th in 2019.

Qatar’s performance is far behind less populated and wealthy countries such as Slovenia, Latvia, and Estonia, which all made the top 60 for six consecutive years. Those three European states did so without naturalizing any athletes, a strategy that Qatar has heavily used to achieve success in international competitions. The main reason why these countries outperform Qatar resides in their participation and involvement in a wider range of sports. Indeed, from 2014 to 2019, the percentage of sports in which Qatar was able to be ranked ranged from 22% to 46%. On the other hand, Slovenia varied between 58% to 69%, Latvia between 58% and 71%, and Estonia between 48% and 63%. The average of sports in which Qatar was able to be ranked over these six years is 34%, much lower than Slovenia’s 64%, Latvia’s 63%, and Estonia’s 58%.

The large funds that Qatar is investing in the organization of mega-sport events and naturalization of athletes are not reflected in the strong performance of its national teams in international competitions. The latter can only be achieved if the Qatari government undertakes a policy aimed at increasing sport participation for both genders.

Article by Nadim Nassif, Associate Professor, Notre Dame University – Louaize (NDU).

Nadim Nassif is an Associate Professor in Physical Education and Sports in Notre Dame University – Louaize (NDU). He created the World Ranking of Countries in Elite Sport, which annually measures the performance of all the countries in all the recognized sports: www.facebook.com/worldsportranking. Apart from Nassif’s work as a scholar, he is also a member of the coaching staff of both the Lebanese futsal and mixed martial arts national teams.

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