Sports Diplomacy: Qatar’s Growing Influence
Relying on their state programs, their idols and the prestige of their competitions, Western European countries and the U.S./Canada are still leading the field of sports diplomacy. However, behind this long-time dominance, other powers are rising. For instance, Qatar is currently gaining influence in this domain.
Regarding the organization of big sporting events, one must firstly notice a decentralization occurring. Following this global trend, Qatar is increasingly hosting major competitions. Two famous tennis championships take place in Doha, and other exhibitions are also organized. Even though Grand Slams tournaments still belong to England, France, Australia and the U.S., things are moving fast. Lately, the Middle East has witnessed an expansion of football, whose development culminated last year with the announcement made by FIFA that Qatar will be hosting the World Cup in 2022. In addition, it is also running for the 2020 Olympics bid. Moreover, the Peace and Sport Table Tennis Cup took place in Doha in November 2011, enabling the Qatari officials to show their willingness to get involved in international civil society projects.
Secondly, Qatar is financing and advertizing massively in the realm of sports. Last summer, huge investments were made in football clubs such as Paris-Saint-Germain and Malaga. Even one of the best European teams, Barcelona, signed a contract with the Qatar Foundation. Although Qatar and other small countries from the Gulf region are newcomers on the scene, this phenomenon has existed for many years, and investors from emerging powers have been running their own clubs for quite a long time now. For example, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea (London) through a $233 million-deal in 2003. More recently, the United Arab Emirates has also gotten involved in European football, with their national companies, Fly Emirates and Etihad Airways, sponsoring Arsenal and Manchester City.
Thirdly, the involvement of Qatar in the Western world does not remain limited to sports and sports diplomacy in particular. These massive investments are part of a larger strategy to influence. In December 2011, the Qatari ambassador to France, His Excellency Mohamed Jahan Al-Kuwari, announced that his country would create a €50 million-fund dedicated to economic projects in French suburbs.
In conclusion, what objectives does Qatar want to achieve through this investment strategy? Many answers can be given, but one may first point out the improvement of Qatar’s visibility on the world stage. Along with other nations, the country is challenging the dominance of Europe and the U.S., reflecting the geopolitical evolution of the world. In terms of soft power, Qatar’s recent involvement in sports will foster a positive image of the country, now considered as a responsible stakeholder. Or even better, the positive image as an important benefactor to sports business and diplomacy at the same time, both through investments in clubs and civil society projects, will continue to grow. This clever strategy culminates in the coverage of major competitions – including the Champions League in France – by national channel Al-Jazeera, ensuring the country a higher visibility in the mid-term.
For more information, see: