Qatar’s World Cup Goals: Moving from the Periphery to the Center
The Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University in Qatar is developing its ongoing web-based research project on Building a Legacy: Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 into a more focused research initiative with a scholarly outcome of either an edited volume or journal special issue. Continuing under the intellectual guidance of GU-Q Visiting Associate Professor Danyel Reiche, the next iteration of the project builds on the Center’s previous research initiatives and aims to examine the role the FIFA World Cup 2022 plays in enabling the small yet affluent Arabian Peninsula state of Qatar to move from the periphery of global sports and politics to the center.
The locus of world sporting systems has traditionally been associated with the global north, relegating the small Gulf states, such as Qatar, to a periphery position in this international arena. By winning the bid to host numerous blue-ribbon events, including the FIFA World Cup, Qatar has worked to actively elevate its international sporting position. By simultaneously demonstrating its foreign policy credentials, facilitating peace agreements, and hosting talks between conflict parties, Qatar has also sought to enhance its international reputation as a responsible global citizen, quickly becoming a key actor setting global standards in politics as well as sports.
Qatar’s strategy of utilizing sports to enhance its international standing and profile is long-term and predates its World Cup bid by many years. Since 1993, Qatar has hosted the ATP Qatar Open, an annual global tennis tournament, and, in 2004, it established Aspire Academy, a state-of-the-art training center, complete with indoor football facilities, a specialized orthopedic and sports medicine hospital, and multi-purpose sports halls and stadium. Qatar has further cemented its credentials as an important international sports actor through ownership of one of the world’s leading football clubs, Paris Saint-Germain. In addition, Qatar’s state-owned airline, Qatar Airways, has minted sponsorship deals with FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich, among other top clubs, and its Al-Jazeera TV network has achieved success in sports broadcasting with its subscription-based sports subsidiary, beIN.
CIRS undertakes this multidisciplinary research initiative to examine how the FIFA World Cup has helped transform Qatar’s reputation, positioning the country as a major player in global politics and sports. Some of the key areas of in-depth academic study include: Qatar’s development model integrating sport into the national economy; beIN Sports and its influence beyond the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; developing Qatar as a tourist destination; Qatar Airways and sport sponsorships around the world; Qatar’s technical innovations for the World Cup; footballing popular culture, local trade, and consumerism; and Qatar’s sports operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, among many other pertinent topics.
In 2019, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) launched a research initiative on “Football in the Middle East.” The aim of this research effort, which builds on the center’s previous research on Sport, Politics, and Society in the Middle East, is to provide original academic insight on the political, economic, and social dynamics of football within the region. This CIRS research initiative adopts a multidisciplinary approach, examining a broad range of political, social, and cultural dimensions of the sport. It explores a range of topics, including the relationship between the sport and international relations, and issues related to gender, refugees, tourism, social mobility, media broadcasting rights, the 2022 World Cup, and sports infrastructure.
CIRS convened two working groups that brought together regional and international scholars and experts to discuss some of the understudied areas related to football in the region and to identify original research questions in their respective areas of focus. This CIRS project is an attempt to produce new literature on an understudied area in the Middle East by engaging scholars and experts from multiple disciplines, including political science, anthropology, business, and journalism, among others. The invited scholars contributed empirically grounded original chapters in an edited volume on Football in the Middle East which is edited by Professor Abdulla Al-Arian, a faculty member at GUQ and will be published in 2021.
This research initiative addresses an increasingly important but largely understudied topic in Middle Eastern studies. Utilizing an interdisciplinary range of social science approaches, this project deepens our theoretical as well as empirical and analytical knowledge of the role of sports in the Middle East. Examining sports within the context of the contemporary Middle East provides an alternate field for our understanding of state-society relations, political economy, and international relations.
CIRS convened two working group meetings that brought together regional and international scholars and experts to discuss some of the understudied areas to identify original research questions in their respective areas of focus. The participants led discussions on a number of related subtopics, including the historical evolution of sports in the Middle East; nationalism, identity, and sports; ethnonational conflict and sports; social inclusion, gender, and sports; fans, brands, sponsorships, and the commercial development of sports; the politics of football in the Levant; physical education; the evolution of sports media; Khaleeji soft power, branding, and sports investments; and GCC mega sporting events and foreign relations.
Sport in the Middle East has become a major issue in global affairs. The contributors to this volume discuss the intersection of political and cultural processes related to sport in the region. The chapters trace the historical institutionalization of sport and the role it has played in negotiating “Western” culture. Sport is found to be a contested terrain where battles are being fought over the inclusion of women, over competing definitions of national identity, over preserving social memory, and over press freedom. Also discussed are the implications of mega-sporting events for host countries, and how both elite sport policies and sports industries in the region are being shaped.