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Qatar Sports Diplomacy and Soft Power

by on October 18, 2013


Sepp Blatter

Public diplomacy describes governmental communication aimed at reaching the general public of another nation; it is comprised of many activities which are intended to meet political ambitions. Sports diplomacy also has the same objectives and is used by governments to signal a desire for closer relations. Recently it has emerged to be an integral part of efforts to build and strengthen ties between nations. The universal passion for sports is used to rise above differences in politics, culture, language and religion .
The rise of sport diplomacy can be traced to a number of key factors including the exponential increase of sport related profitability, franchises, sports events and the rise of the sporting media complex. The synergy between sport and electronic media is very unique and demonstrates the reach, influence and visibility of sporting events, rivalries, iconic sports teams and the sporting heroes who often become the greatest diplomats of their time, all of this has been made possible because of global communications environment. It may be argued that based on these factors, no other form of international communication (besides natural disaster and conflicts) are able to generate so much international attention.



Considering all of the above, Qatar has adopted “sport” as an essential mental image-building strategy of its public diplomacy which has been actively pursued in order to identify and strengthen its position in international forum. In fact sports diplomacy should be considered one of the core functions of diplomacy today and in certain situations even the most important . In Qatar the political elite are leading a path for Sports Management in the state and are known for setting broad ambitions particularly with regard to international sports competitions.



Qatar has invested in diplomacy indirectly through the sponsorship of sporting competitions and sports clubs locally and internationally which means that sports diplomacy reaches Europe in the form of purchase or sponsorship of top football teams and players. It has done so believing sports investments will meet the needs of its long-term rationale which includes the need for economic diversification. One of the biggest successes of sports diplomacy for Qatar will be hosting the Football World Cup in 2022; this Championship is amongst the most attractive sporting events and attracts the media of the world because of football’s universal popularity .


Qatar’s investment in the sport has been very useful in enhancing its reputation and will be a great benefit to the state’s economy in the long term. Since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani came to power in 1995, he began the process of transforming his country’s policy into one which consists of soft power. There are several possible reasons for this which include having a very limited population and land mass making hard diplomacy almost unachievable as well as the country residing in an unstable, turbulent and as well as strategic area.



The question for Qatar is how the security of their country which has a small population country with huge primary energy resources can be preserved. One way Qatar has answered this question is to focus on the definition of the country and impose its presence on the world map. The former Prince of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani has implemented the concept of soft power in a most comprehensive way by pledging investment in sports in order to publicize and strengthen Qatar’s sovereignty through national branding.
The latter is another skill in which Qatar has proven itself, by building on niche aspects of public diplomacy as it forwards ideals and cements them into a national perception. Strictly speaking the government is not the only entity involved in nation branding because it can also consist of non state actors such as multinational corporations and celebrities, this can be seen through companies such as Qatar Airways and Qatar Petroleum. Anholt (who coined to term ‘nation branding’), suggests that brands are gradually becoming the dominant channel of communication for national identity .


FIFA World Cup 2018 & 2022 Host Countries Announced

Qatar has been thrust into the national arena through globalization whereby it is required to compete with others for attention, respect, investor trust, tourists, consumers, and the governments of other nations. Having defined a credible brand, this provides Qatar with a competitive advantage over its rivals. Qatar takes great care in preserving its reputation and understanding how they are perceived by other nations by considering their achievements and failures, their assets and liabilities




Despite all the benefits Qatar is enjoying through sports diplomacy and national branding there are limitations which have been highlighted when Qatar has been subjected to accusations concerning ‘modern day slavery’ of foreign workers on World Cup projects, campaigners called on Qatar to change its policy towards migrant laborers . These are serious issues which the emirate needs to address if it wants to maintain maximum soft power benefits.
In conclusion, no one can deny the increased importance of sport in the world of the geopolitical twenty-first century, especially with the increase of football as a major globalised sports event. All of this can have a huge affect on the human mind regardless of the geographical, religious, social and political differences. This has benefitted Qatar because of the soft power instruments through sports diplomacy which is used to achieve protection and security albeit through an unorthodox manner.
Qatar will continue to pledge sport’s diplomacy to enhance its reputation in the Arab and wider world. Sport has contributed extensively in the definition of the State of Qatar based on its activities as an actor in the international community. The model upon which Qatar’s public diplomacy is based seems to be emulating Western examples where public opinion is deemed to be important. This is a far shift away from the common public diplomacy models adhered to by autocratic and dictatorial states in the region. This also seems paradoxical based on the fact Qatar is still an absolute monarchy.
Sports diplomacy is perhaps the wisest and only choice Qatar has which will ultimately provide the greatest diplomatic yields which are, and will continue to be disproportionally large to its geographic size and demographics. Through the use of public diplomacy and global communications, Qatar has managed to defy the stereotype associated with small states as being powerless and weak and has thus emerged an influential player in the Middle East.





Al-Jazeera, 2013.  Available at: <; Accessed [Accessed 10 October 2013].

ESPN, 2009.  Qatar launch “unity” bid to stage 2022 World Cup finals.  Available at: <> Accessed [Accessed 10 October 2013].

Le Post, 2011.  Cyclisme : Le départ du Tour de France au Qatar ? Pas impossible !.  Available at: <; Accessed [Accessed 10 October 2013].


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  1. Hello,
    Really enjoyed this blog. Thought the use of pictures was particularity interesting, it was easy to read and informative.
    Ricki Jackson

  2. I think your post is very interesting. It mentions new way of doing public diplomacy. To be honest I did not know about Qatar’s investments in sport until the fact that Qatar will be hosting World Cup in 2022 came up. It will definitely be interesting to watch how the whole story about the World Cup will develop in time. Especially because of the accusations you have already mentioned in your post. I believe that another big challenge for Qatar during the World Cup 2022 will be to provide high security for people attending the event.

  3. A brilliant post, I would say. To be honest it is just another piece of proof that in our days sport has become a “peaceful” substitute of politics, mainly international relations. If you have a closer look at the Olympic Games, what are the states that win most medals? Exactly, those are traditional leaders in world politics and global economy, countries like the USA, Russia, China, Germany, Britain. Moreover, there are more accusations that sport is becoming too much comercialised, there is too much money around it, therefore making it more corrupt. The evidence of it could be Qatar hosting the WC-2022, which is supposed to be held in (!) summer time (!) in the middle of the desert.

  4. dar0386 permalink

    A very good post in my opinion.I think actions like these are like a statement that the economy of the country is growing and that foreign investments are welcome. It is indeed a new vehicle for diplomacy.

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