Sport is the lifeblood of Qatari diplomacy
Football, formula 1, handball… Qatar has increased its investments in the field of sports in recent years. Far from being anecdotal, these investments are a spearhead of soft power and true sports diplomacy. Qatar, which has been in diplomatic trouble with its neighbors for several years and is landlocked in a small area, has turned the sports field into a vector of Qatari politics, which is trying to increase the emirate’s reputation at the international level.
Since the 1990s, Qatar has turned sports into a diplomatic tool in order to promote itself in the international world. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 reminded the Qatari authorities of the need to have an international presence in the face of foreign threats. In 2004, expressing the desire to expand Qatar’s influence, “Put it on the map!” initiative supported by Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, who put forward the slogan.
“Sport is one of the lungs of Qatar’s foreign policy,” researcher Raphaël Le Magoariec, a Gulf sports expert, told Ici Beirut. “By continuously investing in sports, Qatar wants to diversify its international relations and increase its influence.
The following years will be fruitful with many investments in tourism, culture and education, including sports. From a small unknown state, Qatar has become a real international brand.
Qatar, the world’s second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas after Australia, has long suffered from dependence on hydrocarbons. However, faced with the scarcity of resources, it wants to diversify its economy to prepare for the future. A dynamic part of the “vision 2030” strategy launched in 2018, one of whose pillars is sports.
Hosting multiple sporting events
The problem: the world of sports is dominated by Western countries, both in international institutions and in competitions and broadcasts. Therefore, Qatar will apply a skillful influence game driven by economic leverage to establish itself in the market. Thus, it will host international sports events ranging from tennis, athletics and motor racing. After the regional competitions, the country becomes even more ambitious by hosting the men’s handball world championship in 2015, the athletics world championship in 2019, as well as the Losail Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2021.
It has established itself as a leading player in the field of horse racing both by owning the largest horse farms in the world and organizing major competitions with the Longines Global Champions Tour Doha and Qatar. International Championship in pole vaulting”. So, until 2013, about 70 sports events were held in the country, including 25 international ones. In football, Qatar has also multiplied competitions on its territory with the U-20 World Cup in 1995, the FIFA Arab Cup in 2021 and the Asian Cup of Nations planned for 2023.
The consecration was related to the organization of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Although criticized, this decision brought Qatar to the fore. The World Championship is actually the first competition held in an Arab country and in such a small area. And far from being the final stage of Qatar’s ambition, the World Cup could be the start of bigger events like the Olympic Games. Qatar did indeed bid for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, and although unsuccessful, remains a possibility for a future edition. However, the rise of Europe’s environmental problems could pose a major obstacle to Qatar’s candidacy, especially due to the climate.
In addition to hosting regional and international competitions, Qatar has developed its sports infrastructure. In 2005, the Emir’s opening of the Aspire Zone sports complex aims to train a new generation of Qatari athletes, while also improving research in the field of sports. A successful strategy that allowed Qatar to shine in several international competitions, winning the last Asian Cup of Nations as well as three medals at the Tokyo Olympics. The country also asserts itself as a world reference in sports research.
The awarding of the World Cup spurred the development of infrastructure in Qatar; evidenced by the huge budget of about 220 billion dollars devoted entirely to its organization. A large budget that fully matches its foreign policy. Raphaël Le Magoariec affirms that “Qatar’s logic is to build its power through investment that may seem foolish but contributes to the development of the country.” .
Therefore, the country will increase the construction of world-class sports facilities such as Lusail Stadium and Khalifa International Stadium. The proximity of the stadiums is an advantage for fans who come to watch the World Cup, as they can go to several matches on the same day. These stadiums are also innovative in their construction, part of a sustainability approach and allow for easy dismantling. Hence, several stadium seats will be distributed to enhance the sporting experience, especially in Africa.
Moreover, the search for influence extends beyond the country’s borders. The acquisition of several foreign clubs such as PSG in 2011 by the sovereign fund Qatar Sport Investments also stems from the desire to increase relations with the emirate. Along with PSG, Qatar also bought Belgian club KAS Eupen, which aims to unearth and nurture young talent. These acquisitions are accompanied by a media empire through the audiovisual channel network BeIN Sports, one of the leaders in the broadcasting of sports events, as well as through football jersey sponsor Qatar Airways, whose logo appeared on FC Barcelona jerseys until 2016. Thanks. Thanks to these investments, Qatar established itself as a major player in world sports.