Qatar & sport: football as a diplomatic tool

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:

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:

Kessous, M. (2011), “Sports as Diplomacy: How Small Gulf Countries Use Big Sports to Gain Global Influence”, 27th June 2011, Time Magazine, available at:,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:


Sweden nation branding

In a globalised world, competition between national “brands” has opened a new battlefield in the digital space. To be able to exist in the face of the great powers, Sweden took the challenge of an original digital diplomacy.

In 2016, Sweden ranks first among the countries of the world on Simon Anholt’s “Good Country Index”, the guru of international communication and national branding. In a period of economic globalisation in which nations themselves tend to be increasingly seen as brands in a market, competition between nation-brands has opened up a new diplomatic battlefield in the digital space.


Olle Wastberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute, a public institution responsible for promoting Sweden and a key Swedish diplomatic position, presented the challenge of governments to deal with this situation: “Every “nation brand’ is a simplification. But even though it may be paradoxical in a globalised world, most countries have found that they must stress their individuality to compete. Reputation is the new currency now that countries are beginning to understand that soft power can be more forceful that the hard power that has so often failed” (Wastberg, 2010). Presence and visibility on the Internet have become a sine qua non for success in this competition.

In the 2000s, Sweden’s promotion abroad was integrated into the country’s export policy: through the promotion of Sweden’s brand, symbols and images, attempts were made to strengthen the position of Swedish products on the world market. Under the leadership of Olle Wastberg, the Swedish Institution put the concepts of Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding at the centre of its strategy. Wastberg has declared his intention to make the Swedish Institute a genuine communication tool, capable of acting on the Internet, which has become the main form of international communication.
2007 marks the first breakthrough in Swedish digital diplomacy. After the 2006 parliamentary elections, former Prime Minister Carl Bildt became Foreign Minister. He was one of the international pioneers of using a personal account on Twitter. In May 2007, he inaugurated the Swedish embassy on Second Life, a virtual form (Bengtsson, 2011).

In January 2013, Carl Bildt instructed all Swedish embassies to open accounts on Facebook and Twitter before the end of the month. Since then, the Internet and its communication channels have taken on a growing role in Swedish diplomacy, both as a tool for communication and as a vehicle for Swedish progressive politics in this field. Thus Bildt’s ministry organised a meeting in Stockholm in January 2014, the Stockholm Initiative for Digital Diplomacy, which brought together international actors for informal discussions on the possibility offered by contemporary digital diplomacy (Sandre, 2014).

One of the most notable projects in Swedish digital diplomacy was Curators of Sweden on Twitter, designed by the Swedish Institute with the National Tourist Board. Following a rotation principle, it was not a single individual, but several who were responsible for Twitter’s @Sweden feed. Each week, a new Swede – nominated by a third party and selected by the project managers – became the feed administrator. The project is clearly in line with the strategy of the Swedish brand: it is a staging of its key-values.

These activities were part of a wider cooperation framework with Swedish companies active on a global scale, where they sought to help Swedish companies to make their Swedish character more pronounced so that they could benefit from Sweden’s good reputation in the world, the idea was to strengthen both the image of Sweden companies and the image of the country itself.

A good example of such use of the national image in international advertising is the publicity for Volvo, where the carmaker used the one who is now the most famous Swede in the world: the footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In these advertisements, which are small cinematographic pieces, Zlatan, like Volvo, represent the union of ancient Sweden, its boreal nature and harsh conditions, with Sweden today: countries of immigration, land of welcome and of advances technology, which has conquered the world by its talent and excellence, while remaining authentic.



Bengtsson, S. (2011), “Virtual Nationbranding: the Swedish Embassy in Second Life”, Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, Vol 4, n°1

Sandre, A. (2014), “Diplomacy 3.0 Starts in Stockholm”, Huffington Post, accessible at:

Siret, M. (2016), “Sweden officially the ‘goodest’ country in the world, study says”, 2nd June 2016, The Independent, accessible at:

Wastberg, O. (2010), “The Symbiosis of Sweden & IKEA”, Public Diplomacy Magazine, accessible at:

Gastrodiplomacy or when political influence passes through the conquest of the stomach

“While gastrodiplomacy is a relatively new field in the realm of public diplomacy, the idea itself can be traced back to the ancient Romans, who often made peace with their enemies over a good meal” (Poon, 2014).


Culinary diplomacy refers to the use of meals in a context of intergovernmental relations to convey a non-verbal message. This definition is not limited to good dishes and fine wines served to relax the atmosphere and facilitate negotiations. Meals can also to better “ingest” words or “digest” an agreement. Political science historians and researchers evoke many situations where the choice of ingredients, place or arrangement of tables is deliberately made to convey a message. At the opposite, gastrodiplomacy is a form of public relations that has emerged more recently. Some governments decide to promote their nation as a brand. They develop strategies, with institutions and budgets, in order to export their culinary heritage. The aim is to promote a country through its cuisine, but also indirectly, to encourage investment, promote trade and tourism.

Can a macaroon be more powerful than a diplomatic telegram? Maybe, if we refer to the theory of gastrodiplomacy. Formulated for the first time in 2002 in an article by The Economist, this term refers to a state’s strategy of using its culinary traditions as a vector of international power (The Economist, 2002). Food thus becomes a tourist argument, attracting foreigners; a factor of economic dynamics, stimulating local industry, and a tool of soft power, valorising the symbolic aura of the country. Gastrodiplomacy is, therefore, to use its country as a brand, by focusing on the cultural identity of a state.

In the United States, until the 1960s, State dinners were prepared by the American army’s kitchens. It is Jackie Kennedy who, hiring a French chef, decided to create in 1961 the position of White House Chief Executive, to reinforce the radiance of the White House. Subsequently, succeeded French chefs, Swiss… until 1994 when Hillary Clinton, the First Lady, separated from the French chief of the White House, to assign the post to an American. In 2012, while she was at the State Department, she launched a Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, aimed at increasing the role of cuisine in American diplomacy (Albright, 2015).


Gastrodiplomacy refers to the time when states promote their cuisine abroad. Thailand, for instance, has launched major training plans for cooks, from 5000 restaurants to more than 15000 in the world. This is the Kitchen of the World program. Since 2002, there has been a conscious and concerted effort in gastrodiplomacy. The country is becoming a brand that we are trying to promote using soft power strategies of public diplomacy, like for instance the truck cruising large American cities.

Besides these initiatives aimed at the broad public, we can see the development of a real struggle among international elites since in 2010, France registered its cooking at the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, thus engaging a battle of many states to record their traditional dishes or emblematic cuisines also. Nevertheless, there are still some faults, since this fervour sometimes turns gastronationalism, using cuisine to fuel political and religious conflicts. For instance, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine are fighting for the origins of hummus (Frum, 2015).

Food can ease tensions and even help to find an agreement. For instance, Gilles Bragnard founded the “Clubs of Chef of Heads State” with the aim of making the cooker’s kitchen apron a symbol of peace by grouping, for instance, Israel and Palestine around the same table.

But paradoxically, it can also create disputes. It can become the symbol of a diplomatic crisis. This is what happens in 2003 in the United States after President Jacques Chirac refused to join the coalition led by Washington in Iraq. The cafeterias of the House of Representatives of the United States decided to change the name of French fries to “freedom fries”, in support of a popular mobilisation against France (Silver, 2011).

There are no quantitative criteria to measure the effectiveness of food in diplomacy. In managerial societies that like to measure everything using performance indicators, counting the number of meals organised by an embassy to measure its influence is a temptation of all diplomatic administrations. But what is true of meals is of diplomatic practice in general: to create empathy by the relational belongs to a register whose evaluation will always remain purely qualitative.


Albright, M. (2015), “Culinary Diplomacy is on America’s Menu”, National Geographic, 25th April 2015, accessible at:

Chapple-Sokol, S. (2014), “War and Peas: Culinary Conflict Resolution as Citizen Diplomacy”, Public Diplomacy Magazine

Frum, D. (2015), “The Israeli-Arab Hummus Wars”, Huffington Post, 6th December 2015, accessible at:

Silver, A. (2011), “French Fries to ‘Freedom’ Fries”, 28th March 2011, Time Magazine, accessible at:,28804,2061530_2061531_2061545,00.html

Poon, L. (2014), “Gastrodiplomacy: Cooking Up a Tasty Lesson on War and Peace”, accessible at:

How Twitter revolutions diplomatic uses


140 signs are now enough to threaten, congratulate or create tensions between countries. A new form of diplomacy of the 21st century is emerging to dialogue with the giants of the Web. With the billions of smartphones in circulation, Heads of States have no choice: they are, in the first sense, “in the hands of peoples” and as such also subject to the influence of social networks (Twitter, Facebook…) and their digital immediacy.

At a time when Donald Trump is using unbridled Twitter and where the Pakistani Minister of Defense is using this same network to threaten Israel with a nuclear response (tweet since removed) after reading the article of a caricatural site, a new form of diplomacy is emerging (AWD, 2016).

We are now talking of “digital diplomacy” as a new vision of the management of international affairs which challenges the monopoly of diplomats, almost unique representatives in charge of the management of international political relations until recently. In the digital age, foreign policy emerges from the shadows and uses these new channels so far from the quiet lounges of embassies and international organisations.

It is impossible to describe this notion of digital diplomacy without citing two Twitter accounts that regularly make headlines: @realDonaldTrump and @Potus. Sometimes as “Donald Trump”, sometimes as President of the United States, Donald Trump continues to bypass the classic media and diplomatic channels by making Twitter his main media of influence. He posts all kinds of messages: announcements: “I will be making the announcement of my Vice President pick on Friday at 11am in Manhattan” (Tweet 13th July 2016); scathing denials: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me” (Tweet 11th January 2017); or even diplomatic messages such as this tweet to Vladimir Putin sent a few hours after Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats from the United States while his Russian counterpart refused to yield to the same movement mood: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” (Tweet 30th December 2016).

No one can deny today that Trump’s winning wager is largely due to the fact that he broke the codes of political communication by freeing himself from the classical media in favour of this language of 140 signs. It remains to be seen whether this new diplomatic grammar, characterized by its conciseness, spontaneity and provocation, will become a new norm or an exception, as China wished to remind the new US President that “foreign policy isn’t child’s play, (…), Twitter shouldn’t become an instrument of foreign policy” (Levitz, 2017) and stressed the fact that Madeleine Albright, a former Secretary of State, had herself recalled that Twitter should not be a tool for foreign policy (Hunt, 2017).

In diplomacy, the least that can be said is that this “hashtag diplomacy” is the opposite of the habits of international relations characterised by their nuances, secrets and formalism. Twitter is the antithesis of diplomatic usage: humour is rare in diplomacy (especially in writing) and is tend to be counterproductive. The provocation is considered an unfriendly, even directly hostile act. The unpredictability is the last think policy-makers want in foreign policy.

However, because of the digital weight in our societies and the centrality of the “web giants”, states are just beginning to organise and establish new forms of diplomatic dialogue, especially with Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, as they have been doing for centuries with nations. To cope with these digital behemoths, which for some of them have cash levels higher than the GDP of industrialised countries, Denmark has just taken the plunge by inventing the diplomacy of the 21st century by appointing a “digital ambassador” (Gramer, 2017).

While it is still difficult to say what form this “diplomatic dialogue” will take between a country and these technologic multinationals, there is no shortage of subjects: the impact of artificial intelligence, protection of personal data, prevention against misinformation and fake news.


AWD News. (2016), “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan sends grounds troops into Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack”, 20th December 2016, available at:,-we-will-destroy-them-with-a-nuclear-attack

Gramer, R. (2017), “Denmark Creates the World’s First Ever Digital Ambassador”, 27th January 2017, Foreign Policy, available at:

Hunt, K. (2017), “China tells Donald Trump to lay off Twitter”, CNN, 5th January 2017, available at:

Levitz, E. (2017), “China would like Trump to stop conducting Diplomacy over Twitter”, New York Magazine, 4th January 2017, available at: