Small Gulf country on the scale of its neighbour Saudi Arabia, Qatar is beginning to play a major role in international relations. Its active diplomacy makes its role on the international scene increasingly contested. However, it is by a very special means that the country has managed to impose itself: through its practice of soft power where sport predominates (Brannagan and Guilianotti, 2014).
The round ball occupies a special place in the Qatari project. Indeed, football, because of the global enthusiasm it arouses and by its accessibility, is a sport with truly international dimensions, with financial, cultural and media characteristics extremely interesting or the sports diplomacy of Qatar.
The organisation of the World Cup 2022 on the soil of Qatar will make it possible to offer the country a very high visibility. With football meetings followed by several million people on the planet, teams and stars with a very high media impact, this competition will make Qatar the most followed country in the world for a month (Reiche, 2014). However, some questioned the capacity of the State to host; on playing during the summer under lead temperatures (Qatar ensured that all stadiums would be air-conditioned); on the fate of the dozens of ultra-modern stadiums built (the country announced that the stadiums would later be relocated and graciously offered to several cities in Africa) (Sannie, 2010).
If the big event is scheduled for 2022, it has been since the beginning of the century that Qatar has positioned itself on football. But it is in recent years that Qatar occupied the first place of influential countries in the world of football, especially since the redemption of the club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). The country owns 100% of the football club. The purchase of the club of the city of Paris was thought like a way to position itself in the European football through the window on the world that represents the French capital. The desire is now to place the PSG among the elite of European football (Gibson, 2014). The attraction for the city of Paris allows Qatar to communicate on a global scale: by combining symbols such as the Eiffel Tower (present on the logo club) and world stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic or David Beckham, Qatar has made a mark and make his name shine in France, Europe and the world.
The country’s wealth of gas allows it to play a leading role in a sport where the importance of money and political-economic power is paramount. The current president of the PSG, Nasser al-Khelaifi, a former top tennis player, is the General Manager of Al Jazeera Sport and also the CEO of beIN Sport, the French branch of Al Jazeera (Gibson, 2014).
The choice of “sports power” for Qatar is therefore motivated by the lack of traditional means of hard power. This project is in line with the country’s foreign policy, characterised by its balance and its desire for modernization. Indeed, the apparent neutrality of sport underlines the “non-aligned” nature of the country, which enables it to position itself as a specialist in international mediation and crisis resolution. Thus, it is in Qatar that we owe the resolution of the Lebanese political crisis with the Doha agreements in May 2008, or the end of the Yemeni rebellion in July 2008 (Barakat, 2014:14).
The emirate has started the construction of a soft power internationally to highlight its modernity, richness and innovation, in view of its program Qatar National Vision 2013. The prestige dimension of sports diplomacy (popularity, media coverage, universality and political neutrality) aims to give Qatar the means to achieve its ambitions.
Barakat, S. (2014), Qatari Mediation: Between Ambition and Achievement, Washington DC: Brookings Institution
Bosnjak, S. (2016). “Football Diplomacy: How Qatar won the 2022 World Cup”, Australian Institute of International Affairs, available at: http://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australian_outlook/football-diplomacy-how-qatar-won-the-2022-world-cup-hosting-rights/
Brannagan, P.M and Guilianotti, R. (2014), “Soft power and soft disempowerment: Qatar, global sport and football’s 2022 World Culp finals”, Leisure Studies, Vol 34, n°6, p703-719
Gibson, O. (2014), “Why PSG and the World Cup will not be enough for football hungry Qatar”, The Guardian, 3rd April 2014, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/apr/03/psg-world-cup-football-tv-rights-qatar
Kessous, M. (2011), “Sports as Diplomacy: How Small Gulf Countries Use Big Sports to Gain Global Influence”, 27th June 2011, Time Magazine, available at: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2080062,00.html
Reiche, D. (2014), “Investing in sporting success as a domestic and foreign policy tool: the case of Qatar”, International Journal of Sports Policy and Politics, Vol 7, n°4, p489-504
Sannie, I. (2010), “Africa to benefit from Qatar 2022 World Cup hosting”, BBC Sport, 22nd May 2010, available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/africa/8690666.stm