Since its attribution to Qatar at the end of 2011, the 2022 World Cup has been one of the most controversial in history, but the emirate has come out of it rather a winner in terms of image and influence, particularly in the countries of the South and the Arab world, according to several observers.
From accusations of corruption to get the tournament to criticism over the rights of migrant workers and LBGT+ people, “there were a lot of concerns in terms of organization and security, as well as the extreme politicization of this World Cup. world”, recalls Carole Gomez, doctoral student in sociology of sport at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
“It is clear that this politicization was not as important as it could have been and that, if there were hiccups, they were little publicized”, remarks Ms. Gomez.
“The event offered Qatar the opportunity to cleanse its image as a scandalous country, even if it meant forgetting the affairs that had preceded the tournament”, abounds Raphaël Le Magoariec, specialist in the geopolitics of sport in the Gulf at the University of Tours, France.
For Andreas Krieg, professor at King’s College London, “cultural clashes on social networks over values and symbols” should not affect international relations.
“Qatar used the World Cup to cement diplomatic ties,” he notes, and “even in countries where media coverage has been mostly negative, like the UK, political elites have remained positive about towards the World Cup host”.
– “Net profit of +soft power+” –
According to Simon Chadwick, professor of economics and geopolitics of sport at SKEMA Business School, in France, the emirate is doing with “a net benefit of +soft power+”, particularly in the South and in the Arab world, where the competition has “given a boost” to his pre-existing influence.
This is what the Qatari authorities have highlighted. “We kept our promise to organize an exceptional championship for Arab countries, which allowed the people of the world to discover the richness of our culture and the originality of our values”, wrote the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on Twitter on Sunday.
Between the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, guest of honor at the opening ceremony and the wearing by the Emir of a green scarf, the color of the Saudi selection, we will remember the staging of reconciliation with Arabia Saudi Arabia, after their diplomatic estrangement between June 2017 and January 2021.
The Palestinian cause was also invited to the stadiums, with many supporters and players of Morocco – surprising and unifying semi-finalists – displaying the Palestinian flag.
“It rallied the Arab and Islamic world around Qatar, champion of regional issues such as Palestine or anti-colonialism,” according to Mr. Krieg.
Ms. Gomez also notes “different meetings where Turkey was involved”. “The message was shot on a global scale and no longer only on a Western scale, and mainly on a European scale,” she analyzes.
– “Always have reservations” –
“Even in the North, for example in parts of Europe, the perceptions and attitudes of some people towards Qatar have changed for the better,” Chadwick adds.
“Many visitors, especially in the media (…), still have reservations”, he notes however, and “there is still considerable resistance in countries such as Denmark, Germany and the -Bas, which the Qatari authorities have chosen not to confront”.
It seems to him “unlikely that four weeks will be enough to challenge received ideas and stereotypes”. “The real work of building + soft power + begins for the Qatari government”, concludes Mr. Chadwick.
With a first pitfall: the presumptions of corruption in the European Parliament, revealed in the middle of the World Cup.
Carole Gomez wonders about the effects that this scandal will have but also about how Qatar will “imagine its sports diplomacy in the future”, in a context of competition with Saudi Arabia, the two countries eyeing the Olympics in 2036.
“A few months ago, I thought that we were perhaps going to witness, in view of the accusations of + sportwashing +, a slowdown on the part of certain countries ready to invest at all costs in sport, she said. But when you look at what happened in Qatar, maybe it’s not sure.”
The climate issue, on the other hand, could become decisive, she believes, as Saudi Arabia was designated in early October to host … the 2029 Asian Winter Games.