Restore its image abroad, a rather successful bet for Qatar

The final kick-off will sound in the Lusail stadium at 8 p.m. next Sunday for a match between France and Argentina. It will be the last match of this 2022 World Cup, which is so special in terms of its calendar, for the first time played in winter, by its location, for the first time organized in a Gulf country, and by all the controversies it has aroused. The World Cup in Qatar will also be remembered for the atypical journeys of certain teams, such as Saudi Arabia’s victory over Argentina or Morocco’s arrival in the semi-finals.

In the end, the fervor of the supporters seems to have prevailed over all the criticism leveled against the Middle Eastern emirate in terms of the environment and respect for human rights. The bet therefore seems successful for this cramped state which has “largely” managed to restore its image on the international scene. Nabil Ennasri, doctor in political science and author of The empire of Qatar, the new master of the game? (Dots On The I), come back for 20 minutes on the strategy of “soft power” through sport adopted by Doha.

Has Qatar managed to restore its international image thanks to the World Cup?

The state has largely achieved this. Organizational problems during this World Cup could be avoided to the great relief of the authorities who feared hiccups due to lack of preparation, particularly around the Lusail stadium, the largest enclosure in the country where the final will be played. In September, a match between a Saudi team and an Egyptian formation, which had been thought of as a trial run, had been punctuated by mishaps (congestion in the metro, lack of drinking water, difficulty of access, etc.) . After more than fifteen days of tournament, everything went well, as shown by the avalanche of videos on social networks showing fans of all origins communing in jubilation and good humor, especially around the Souq Waqif, emblematic place of the capital.

The magic of football and the powerful feelings it generates occupied the space”

The “good organization” of the event, praised in international media (such as The world) or by Emmanuel Macron, has it made people forget the climate and humanitarian controversies?

The controversies flourished before the World Cup and intensified as the kickoff of the inaugural match approached. Once the competition started, the game and passion took over, as shown by the good audiences for the matches, both in France and elsewhere in the world. The fervor was all the stronger because two days after the opening match, the feat of Saudi Arabia against Argentina and then of Japan against Germany generated such a shock wave that the magic football and the powerful feelings it generates have occupied space and relegated to the background the controversies and other calls for a boycott.

Is the refusal of many teams to wear the “One Love” armband a victory for Doha?

This was a satisfaction shared by the host country and FIFA. This armband also became controversial in the sense that a strong protest movement in the Arab world had woken up, many demanding that the captains of the qualified Arab teams (Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia) wear the Palestinian armband. Their argument was that, as soon as political or ideological claims were introduced into the field, it was necessary to give echo to other causes such as that of Palestine, whose attachment remains strong in the opinions of the region, such as the t showed the presence of many flags in the stands and even on the pitches with players who at the end of the match displayed them ostensibly.

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Is there a risk of ignoring all the problems around this World Cup after the final?

This is indeed a risk and this is the cardinal role that the media, NGOs and civil society in general will play so that international pressure continues even after the World Cup. The goal is for Qatar to maintain its reform package in favor of the workers. I think it will continue on this path, as evidenced by the continuation of the collaboration announced a few days ago with the International Labor Organization (ILO). Because it was a long way off.

Qatar needs to improve its image, and it is not in its interest to go back”

When the competition was awarded in 2010, there was a real practice of modern slavery, then, under pressure from international powers, associations and the media, Qatar took a series of measures such as the establishment a mandatory minimum wage. Afterwards, there is still a gap between law and practice. It is imperative to go further, but today Qatar needs to improve its image, and it is not in its interest to go back, especially on this issue of workers’ rights. More broadly, on climate and social issues, Qatar is somewhat under the obligation to take them into consideration because it has nothing to gain by being singled out on the international scene. If the criticisms are permanent, he will not be able to restore his image.

Will Qatar go unpunished by the international community for its crimes against foreign workers, among others?

It will remain under international pressure, especially if it applies for the Olympic Games, which seems to be the case for the 2036 edition. The use of sport by Qatar responds to strategic objectives of “soft power” c that is to say, diplomacy of outreach. This dynamic pushes him to remain on the radar of international attention, and we can legitimately think that if he obtains the organization of the Games, the same controversies will resurface.

Why does a sport like football shape the image of a country? And more particularly an event like the world?

Because football is the king sport, adored in all latitudes and in all countries. The fervor, passion and excitement it draws is unique, and no other sport commands so much attention. That’s why Qatar has made it the cornerstone of its sports diplomacy. Other countries have understood this well, in particular the United States, which will mainly host the next edition, as well as China, which is the most serious candidate for 2030. The goal of the Beijing regime is to show the face of the world its strategic power by the lever of the symbol that the World Cup generates.

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