This Sunday, day
, we will have the opening of the Football World Cup in 2022, in Al Khor, Qatar. Leaving aside the selection of the Brazilian team, the expectations of the fans and the possible good games that we will have in the coming days, together with the not so good ones, it is important to talk about what Qatar intends to host the World Cup. On 19 December, one month from now, after the final of the tournament, what image will the world have of the Arab peninsular country?
Officially, Qatar has a constitution approved via referendum on 2003. In practice, however, the country is an absolute monarchy, practically the private property of the al-Thani family, which has ruled the peninsula since 1868. An example of how the country is governed absolute can be seen in the country’s parliament, the Advisory Council. The name already makes it clear, it only serves to advise the government, without powers in practice. In theory, he can question the decisions of the Prime Minister, not those of the Emir, the Sovereign.
The Prime Minister is appointed by the Emir, who also appoints a third of the Council. In order for the body to censure the head of ministers, the agreement of two thirds of the Council is required. That is, the “independent” political institutions are, in practice, all appointed and controlled by the monarch. There is no independent judiciary, corporal punishment is a legal penalty, and leaving Islam and homosexuality are capital crimes, although the country has a moratorium on the death penalty.
Attempting to convert someone to another religion other than Islam can carry a penalty of up to ten years in prison. It is important to remember that several countries in the region have very similar characteristics, some without even considering maintaining appearances of greater political representation, as is the case of Saudi Arabia, also an absolutist monarchy. Unlike the Saudi country, in Qatar temples of other religions are authorized, such as Christian churches.
In the post-war world Cold, two simultaneous phenomena occurred, starting in the decade of 1990. First, a greater projection of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula on the world stage. The old ties of the Cold War no longer existed, which added to the technological innovations that began in this period. Greater economic ties, greater investment flow and more tourism. The idea that Iran would be the main US antagonist in the region also favors this closer relationship, in the construction of alliances and partnerships.
An important event in this process is the Gulf War, in 1991. Of course this is a brief summary. Relations between the Saudis and the US, for example, date back to the 1930 decade, centered on the supply of oil. What happens in the decade of 1990 is an expansion and deepening of existing relationships. Some readers may remember, for example, the first time they heard about airlines from countries in the region, or that they heard about Doha or Abu Dhabi as tourist destinations.
In the case of Qatar, the The decade of 1990 is also marked by the fact that the country’s role in the world economy has changed radically. Oil exploration in the small country began in 1949 and, although Qatar has a remarkable oil industry, it does not reach the feet of the main world players in the sector, such as Saudi neighbors, the US or Russia. In 1997, however, Qatar, for the first time, exported liquefied natural gas. It is in this sector that Qatar is one of the most heavyweight players in the world.
Qatar has the third largest natural gas reserves in the world, with 14% of all known natural gas. It is also the third largest exporter of natural gas, with a varied list of buyers. In recent months, the country has been the destination of several visits by European leaders, seeking to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. In these last 20 years, gas money has made Qatar an influential and important regional player, with global influence on economic issues as well as the politics of its neighbors.
Another phenomenon started in the decade of 1991, however . Greater international pressure on human rights issues. The agenda, before, was conditioned to the scenario of the Cold War. Authoritarianism was “tolerable” in the name of fighting the other side. The reasoning that sustained the Latin American military dictatorships, for example. The post-Cold War, the genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda, among other events, gave impetus to demands for respect for Human Rights in the international community.
One of the expressions of this phenomenon is the fact governments are often charged with the contradiction of demanding and defending Human Rights guidelines while maintaining strong relationships with these monarchies of the Arabian peninsula. Many times such charges were innocuous in terms of practical consequences, but they had an impact on the cited Arab governments. It is the beginning of a series of policies aimed at making countries more “palatable” to foreign eyes.
It gives you heavy investment in communication, advertising, tourism, construction of luxurious buildings, everything this to change the image of these governments. And one of the most effective ways of doing this is using sport as a showcase and advertising vehicle. International football tournaments, local clubs signing top players, motor racing, two of the greatest tennis players in history playing on a high-rise court in Dubai, anything goes.
In English, this is called sportwashing. In the case of Qatar, in December 2010, the country “won” the right to host the World Cup. The quotation marks are for the various suspicions and complaints about possible acts of corruption in the selection process. The following year, via Qatar Sports Investments, part of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the al-Thani government bought the French club Paris Saint-Germain. Neymar and Messi are among the highest paid civil servants in the world.
With the billions of dollars put into the tournament, the idea of the al-Thani is that, at the end of the year, the country’s global image be positive. The country is not the first and will not be the last to use the sport as a propaganda tool, but it has the most potential to be a watershed, due to the characteristics of the country and the tournament. For example, the facts that stadiums hold more than 2003% of the tiny national population and that part of the international community is accepting to leave human rights flags aside.
If Qatar is successful in its operation to improve its image, the message will be sent to other countries that have the means to emulate what Qatar has been doing in recent years. fifteen years. If, after the tournament, the “concerns” about, for example, the conditions of workers in the country simply disappeared, it would have been a great victory for the al-Thani dynasty. Unfortunately, recent history does not allow us to think that it will be anything other than that. It remains to cheer, and not just for the performance on the field.