Qatar and sports

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Qatar is a sovereign Arab state located in a small peninsula in western Asia which grew at an impressive speed since they stopped being a British protectorate in 1971. The population at that time was barely 119000 habitants, while nowadays it’s 2.57 million with an almost non-existent unemployment rate; they had a GDP of 387 million USD and a GDP per capita of 3246 USD whereas in 2016 of 152 billion USD and 59330 USD respectively. These are just a few aspects which are useful to reflect clearly the huge growth Qatar had since 1971. The development the small emirate had thanks to the abundance of petroleum and gas had a major setback on the 90’s, and it is demonstrated by the Football World Cup Qatar 2022 organization vice president Nasser Al Khater with his statement “Everybody thinks Qatari’s were born rich, but in 1995 this country was in bankrupt and the Government couldn’t pay wages, we knew we had gas, but we didn’t know how to extract it or how to transport it. There was a market but the exploitation was complicated, many companies refused to invest until Exxon came”. They overcame the crisis (with the possession of the fourth world gas reserve and the thirteenth oil reserve) and became in 2014 the world’s richest country; full of luxury skyscrapers, 5 star hotels, high-end cars, and between many other things sport events, that as the company Qatar Sports Investments considered in their description are ” part of social and human development because of its effectiveness in uniting people regardless of nationality, color or race”.

But they aren’t satisfied with their economic and population growth, therefore we are going to focus on their relationship with sports, particularly with football. Qatar and all of the Arab region are getting involved in the sports’ scene with the objective of being known by the world beyond petroleum and their high temperatures. They believe sports are a social development tool, a powerful instrument to earn prestige and visibility abroad; and as the international politics expert for the Middle East and Africa James Dorsey said: “a cultural expression, the way to reach an entire community that, as a State, you would never reach”.

According to Geles Rivera, resident of Qatar and author of an opinion section in the ‘El Correo del Golfo’ newspaper, the country is promoting international competitions and awareness campaigns on the need of playing sports (as supposedly Qatari’s don’t make much exercise and the heat makes it harder), they celebrate an International Sports Day (on the second Tuesday of each February), and they hosted numerous sport events in their capital city Doha over the last years such as: the Asian Games of 2006, Pan-Arab games of 2011, World Indoor Athletics Championship 2012, FINA World Swimming Championship 2014, World Men’s Handball Championship 2015, UCI Road World Championship 2016, and annually the ATP & WTA tennis tournaments in Doha and the IAAF Diamond League between others; but the cherry on top will be in four years… the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

The organization of the most important event in football (in my opinion, the most important event in sport) and all of the other ones mentioned before are not the only way in which Qatar engages with sport. They are also sponsoring many events, through Qatar Airways, such as the Paris and New York ePrix of Formula E, the Qatar Classic Squash Tournament, Chi Al Shaqab equestrian competition (first approved by FEI in Asia and the Middle East), the Qatar ExxonMobil Open men tennis tournament, the Qatar Total Open women tennis tournament, and the FIFA tournaments: FIFA eWorld Cup (online gaming tournament)2018, FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, male FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 and obviously in Qatar 2022 as well. Qatar Airways is also beginning to focus on sponsoring football teams as proved with their contracts with the Sydney Swans in the AFL, the Arabian team Al Ahly, FC Barcelona until 2016 (sponsored during 4 years by Qatar Airways and the previous two years by Qatar Foundation)and the recently confirmed Boca Juniors in Argentina, Bayern Munich and A.S.Roma.

As they aren’t fulfilled with the sponsorships and event’s organization they’ve also founded BeinSports (a television network dedicated to the broadcasting of sporting events present in several countries)and the sports clothing Burrda that has within their client portfolio 10 football teams, two handball national teams, one rugby team and Qatar’s Olympic delegations; but mainly they’ve founded a company called Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) with the idea of investing in sport projects in other countries and reinvesting that income into sports development, recreation and entertainment in Qatar in order to benefit the community.

Going in depth with football, Qatar Sports Investments had a big responsibility in the growth the country has had in this sport, being nowadays the largest investor in the football industry as they consider it a tool for economic and social construction between the Arab countries and the west. To understand the dimension of their interest in football it’s worth mentioning they’ve acquired television rights for the Champions League and the Spanish League, paying for the second one a record number of 1900 million Euros for the seasons between 2015 and 2019. The company has two major projects underway: the football World Cup of 2022 and PSG, but they also back up the other project mentioned before (other sport events organized by the country, the sponsorships, clothes and broadcasting companies they’ve founded, etc).
PSG might be considered their ‘star’ product (although they had a business relationship with Barcelona through the Qatar Airways sponsorship) if we consider the effort and money spent to make it real. The capital city team historically used to be a bit over half-table, with just two local titles and one UEFA Cup before Al-Thani and his confidence man Nasser Al-Khelaifi appeared in 2011 making an unbeatable team on their country but -at the moment- not in Europe. Since the Qatari fortune came they’ve won four Ligue 1’s, three Coupe de France, four Coupe de la Ligue and five French Supercups, but at what cost? 130 million dollars for reinforcing the squad on their first season foresaw that a new football giant was about to appear in Europe (they’ve spent around 1000 million dollars till the date, including the pump signing Neymar, Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Di Maria between many other Class A footballers). As stated by Gilles Dumas -a French sports marketing consultant- to El Pais, “with the signing of Neymar, the Qatari’s from PSG pretend to demonstrate that their project is more alive than ever and that they have financial power; for them it’s a State investment, prestige and their best link to the rest of the world. They don’t care about the costs”. The Brazilian star transfer confirms that the small Arab emirate is decidedly involved in football and that their plans of growing through the sport industry will keep going on.

But it isn’t as simple as it looks, Qatari’s had some setbacks which at least slowed their ambitious project’s down. A good example would be Malaga, a team Nasser Al-Thani bought in 2010 and for which they’ve spent big amounts in players such as Van Nistelrooy, Baptista, Isco or Cazorla -between others- without obtaining the sports results expected, mainly due to the UEFA sanction that decided the sheik to stop investing -even though he recently said that he plans to convert Malaga into a role model in Europe- and therefore leaving the project half way. If we take a look at the designation of Qatar as the FIFA World Cup 2022 host we would find out many arguments such as suspicions of corruption, complaints about the lack of tradition in football the Arab emirate has, about the hard working conditions for the construction workers (according to Amnesty), climatic issues due to the high temperatures and the monstrous investments (the finance Minister Ali Sherif Al Emadi said at the moment 500 million dollars per week, and it would probably increase) that need to be made to prepare Qatar for an event of such magnitude. No matter what Qatari’s keep going forward: they didn’t flinch with the corruption suspicions, and even though accused of spending too much they are building an international airport, highways, trains, electricity plants, a subway line, hospitals and between many other things 9 stadiums (including the first refrigerated stadium -Khalifa International- in the world to combat the high temperatures).

In conclusion, Qatar is decided to get involved strongly in the sports’ scene and they don’t matter the cost or effort they need to do; they want to be recognized by the world, to develop socially, to grow as a country in all aspects, and they consider sports as the best tool to accomplish their objectives. As Xavi Hernandez, one of the best footballers in the last two decades and one of the most respected voices in the football world (also counselor in Qatar’s ambitious sport projects and their ideal candidate to be the National team coach on the WC) said, “they are trying to make the country grow through sports, they are skilled, and even though used to take decisions they let themselves be influenced by the people who lived football. They are going to make a spectacular World Cup, they aren’t just building stadiums, they are building a country”.

One might wonder, what do they win by making these enormous investments in the sports industry? Well, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is the answer, the longed for recognition for a very small country.

 

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