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From maverick participant to disaster manager: What Qatar desires from its World Cup


Mere months after the extended crisis between Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbours got here to an finish – a interval that value it billions to outlive – the small Gulf state is now about to spend 4 weeks within the worldwide limelight as host of the World Cup. Its leaders are hoping to reinforce their nation’s popularity and change into a diplomatic hub for network-building. But this final result is on no account sure.

Qatar is actually paying for the privilege of internet hosting. This 12 months’s World Cup would be the most expensive FIFA match in historical past, costing $220 billion – nearly 20 occasions what Russia spent in 2018, and much larger than the earlier highest funds of $15 billion for the 2014 contest in Brazil. Germany spent solely $4.3 billion when holding it in 2006. Qatar had little appropriate infrastructure to host a World Cup when it bid. It has constructed stadiums from scratch in addition to the entire hospitality, transport, and logistics infrastructure – particularly renewing the airport and constructing new subway strains – wanted to host a worldwide mega-event. Even with the brand new development, a number of the anticipated 1.5 million guests are struggling to seek out inexpensive lodging. The common costs for vacationer lodging have skyrocketed and, in some instances, authorities have evicted momentary residents to make room for followers. These are solely a number of the challenges that include holding an occasion of this measurement in an 11,000 sq. kilometre nation with 3 million inhabitants.

And but, all of those prices and potential disruptions are value it within the eyes of the Qatari authorities. Indeed, internet hosting the World Cup shouldn’t be actually concerning the soccer in a rustic that has little custom of the attractive recreation. Instead, that is the apex of a years-long technique to accrue tender energy and worldwide status – two extraordinarily useful currencies for a small nation in such a unstable and unstable area. Since the early 2000s, Qatar has hosted greater than 600 regional and worldwide athletics competitions, alongside worldwide enterprise exhibitions and cultural occasions. It has used these as a part of a a lot bigger worldwide branding marketing campaign that included the institution of a worldwide air service, Qatar Airways, and flagship investments all over the world, from The Shard in London to French soccer workforce Paris Saint-Germain, and past. Qatar has executed all this to current itself as a strong, financially strong, and internationally recognised actor. But internet hosting the World Cup is crucial ‘tender energy coup’ of all of them.

For Qatar, the World Cup is the apex of a years-long technique to accrue tender energy and worldwide status – two extraordinarily useful currencies for a small nation in such a unstable and unstable area.

Indeed, to organize for the World Cup, Qatar has additionally shifted gears on its reputational marketing campaign. If between the early 2000s and the Arab uprisings, Qatar had centered on strengthening and deploying its tender energy to mediate regional crises, the last decade after 2011 was characterised by maverick regional insurance policies and help for unpalatable and anti-Western non-state actors. But with the World Cup approaching, Qatar’s coverage outlook modified considerably and realigned with its considerably much less controversial behaviour of the early 2000s. This is obvious within the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: Doha has been unambiguous in its condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has supplied high-level platforms to Ukrainian voices, together with by inviting President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak on the 2022 Doha Forum. This 12 months, Qatar has additionally engaged in negotiations with a number of European nations – particularly Germany and Italy – to reply to their energy safety wants, albeit with blended outcomes. Doha is now freed from main issues associated to regional threats to its safety, particularly after the top of the intra-Gulf disaster in 2021, the three-year interval through which its neighbours prolonged a partial financial embargo and a full political boycott in opposition to it. Qatar has as an alternative tried to play a constructive function on some enduring points in its area. For instance, it gave logistical, political, and monetary help to the US and European actors of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Again, making an attempt to be a helpful companion, Doha has emerged as a mediator between the United States and Iran. (In this sense it’s nearly poetic that the US and Iran will play one another on 29 November, in one of many first video games of the competitors.) US and European decision-makers have acknowledged Qatar for these decisions, and it has been rewarded for its efforts: in January, the US designated Qatar a “main non-NATO ally” – the one nation within the Middle East and North Africa area to obtain such a standing.

Yet, Qatar has nonetheless not managed to resolve its reputational downside in Western public opinion and civil society; and, if something, its function as host has solely raised its profile in a unfavourable sense. NGOs have initiated boycott campaigns and outstanding soccer personalities resembling Harry Kane and Gary Lineker have spoken out in opposition to Qatar internet hosting the World Cup. Criticism has particularly centered on the working conditions of labour migrants on development websites within the nation, that are characterised by poor hygiene and residing requirements, authorized insecurity, and exploitation. To cushion itself in opposition to these accusations, Qatar has tried to deal with issues on staff’ rights. Doha created a fund in 2018 to settle excellent salaries, it set a minimal wage for migrant staff in March 2021, and it established arbitration boards for wage disputes. In 2018, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was allowed to open an workplace in Qatar to watch progress on labour reforms. Workers can now change jobs, resign, or depart the nation with out the permission of their ‘guarantor’ (kafil). And but, as each the ILO and Amnesty International have stated, challenges stay. For instance, there have been 37 deaths immediately linked to the development of World Cup stadiums.

Qatari voices – together with Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – complain of an “unprecedented disinformation campaign” that targets them unfairly. The nation’s leaders might observe that it has acquired higher scrutiny than Russia did earlier than its World Cup in 2018, China earlier than it held the Winter Olympics this 12 months, and the United Arab Emirates when it hosted EXPO 2020. Qatar’s wager was at all times that having the World Cup was well worth the backlash, as it will remodel Doha right into a diplomatic hub – however it didn’t count on the response to be so fierce that it might tarnish the status of the Cup itself. Decision-makers in Doha have been hoping the match would assist current their nation as a contemporary, rich society and dispel the orientalist tropes that always color conversations about their small Gulf Arab state within the West. Instead, media consideration – at the very least within the US and a few European nations – has been on divergences in judgments, concepts, and priorities. In the top, Qatari decision-makers can be nicely suggested to not measure the World Cup’s success when it comes to branding.

The European Council on Foreign Relations doesn’t take collective positions. ECFR publications solely signify the views of their particular person authors.

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