More than a Game: Football and Soft Power in the Gulf
By hosting spectacular international mega-events such as the 2022 World Cup and investing in the heavyweights of global football such as Paris St. Germain, Newcastle United or Manchester City, the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – in particular Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – are heavily engaged in ‘football diplomacy’ to gain more leverage in terms of regional and international politics, bolster their global reputation, consolidate power on an internal and external level and promote economic diversification. In doing so, these GCC monarchies instrumentalise football for the projection of soft power with the aim of preserving geostrategic interests, consolidating legitimacy and promoting a respective national ‘football identity’. As such, they are competing for ‘beauty’, ‘brilliance’ and ‘benignity’. In addition, sports (particularly football) are drivers of domestic and international human development, as GCC states such as Qatar are increasingly investing in Sports for Development (S4D) efforts. As sport diplomacy is also at risk of ‘soft disempowerment’, S4D provides an instrument to counter international criticism and promote social cohesion and national identity politics.
Keywords: Gulf monarchies; sport diplomacy; football; World Cup