The sportswashing questions remain a few days before the start of the tournament.


Qatar’s decision to embark on hosting the 2022 World Cup was a headache from the start. Why, some have wondered, would a Middle Eastern emirate with less than three million people and little footballing tradition want to host the sport’s biggest event?

Skeptics say the country wanted to use the prestige of the World Cup to remake its image as a natural gas producer with a fragile human rights record.

They viewed the move, which will cost the country some $325 billion, as a classic case of “sportswashing” – using sports as a forum to portray a country or company as different from what many perceive.

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This is not a new concept, and Middle Eastern money has long been a major player. Qatar has many international connections through its diplomacy and other efforts. Where many see Qatar and other wealthy countries spending money to join the global elite, others see nefarious attempts to hide unwanted reputations.

“The FIFA World Cup in Qatar has started a discussion about sports washing and human rights in football and it has been a very steep learning curve for all of us,” the president of the association said. Norwegian Football Federation, Lise Klaveness, at a recent Council of Europe event.

The German interior minister also expressed concern about the possibility of staging the event in Qatar, saying “no World Cup takes place in a vacuum”.

“There are criteria that must be met, and then it would be better not to award to such states,” Minister Nancy Faeser said last month in a move that sparked diplomatic tensions.

Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, hit back, saying the country “has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced”.

The World Cup is just one of the ways Qatar uses its enormous wealth to project its influence. By buying sports teams, hosting high profile events and investing billions in European capitals – such as the purchase of The Shard skyscraper in London – Qatar has integrated itself into international finance and a network Support.

Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) in Ligue 1 belongs to the Emir of Qatar. Its purchase in 2011 came a year after Qatar won the right to host the World Cup. For many, it felt like it was scripted to show the country had good faith in football. Some of PSG’s players are among the most famous in the world – Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi – and all of them will be in the World Cup.

Christian Pulisic is the first American to play in and win a Champions League final and is a three-time U.S. Soccer Federation Player of the Year. He is part of Premier League team Chelsea, which was owned by a Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich.

Abramovich was widely hailed as the savior of this team during his 19 years in control of the club, but put the team up for sale this year due to sanctions related to his country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The new LIV golf league is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which also owns fellow Premier League side Newcastle, while reigning English champions Manchester City were bought by the Abu Dhabi royals in 2008.

Some of the best players from these teams, including Kevin de Bruyne, Kieran Trippier and Bruno Guimarães, will play for Belgium, England and Brazil in the World Cup.

None of these players, or owners, have received the same kind of public condemnation as those in golf who left the PGA Tour to play for LIV. Just as was the case when the football teams were bought, there was never a mystery as to who funded LIV, who brazenly portrayed themselves as a disruptive force in golf who will change the sport for the better.

According to the CIA, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in 2018. The involvement of the Saudi Public Investment Fund became more of a lightning rod when Phil Mickelson said aloud what many felt already.

“They’re scary (expletive),” the six-time major champion said in a much-quoted interview with golf writer Alan Shipnuck of the FirePit Collective.

Families of 9/11 victims have become vocal critics of Golf LIV, pointing to Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record and the country’s connection to the attacks.

“While (it) is truthful, it’s not good for Mickelson’s image,” said Jamal Blades, a football-loving London tech company executive who occasionally blogs about sports and recently completed his masters degree. in sports business and innovation. “But sportwashing happens all over the world in one form or another, where there are people, governments or corporations all over the place attaching themselves to big and small events.”

A prominent advertiser, the U.S. Department of Defense, was seeking positive publicity and a connection to the NFL, but the deal inadvertently sparked a public relations issue when quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt for ” The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“When (a company) wants to be the official sponsor of a team or a league, what they try to do is create an affinity to improve the reputation of (the company) and bring the fans to think of (this company) as more than a commodified producer of “what this company sells,” said Stephen Ross, executive director of the Penn State Center for the Study of Sports in Society.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, used the occasion of the Beijing Winter Olympics to host a summit and show solidarity this year. Later in those matches, IOC President Thomas Bach showed up with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai to see Eileen Gu, an American-born freestyle skier who was competing for China, win her first Olympic medal. gold. Peng’s public appearance came after his safety was in doubt for months after he appeared on social media to accuse a former senior Chinese official of sexual assault.

Heads turned when the Asian Winter Games announced they would be holding the 2029 version of their event in Saudi Arabia, a desert country that is spending some $740 billion to build a winter resort it says will will be environmentally sustainable. The Saudis have also hosted golf, tennis and Formula 1 events in their country despite their weak tradition in these sports.

“The Saudi case is almost like the quintessential case of sportswashing success,” Ross said of the country that led the world by exporting $142 billion in crude oil in 2020.

Qatar, which also shares the world’s largest undersea natural gas field with Iran, also wanted in on the act.

It has hosted world titles in gymnastics and athletics, both of which were preludes to the World Cup, which costs the country an estimated $325 billion. The country could be banking on the reality that no matter what problems a host faces in the preparations, most global sporting events are ultimately judged by the quality of the event itself.

The country recruited hundreds of fans to receive free trips to the World Cup in exchange for promoting positive content on social media about the event and the host.

As the World Cup approaches, allegations of human rights and corruption have become high-profile topics and are expected to remain so until the championship trophy is presented on December 18.

Whether that’s fair depends on who you ask.

LIV Golf frontman Greg Norman said on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson show this summer that Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, sponsors events on the Ladies’ European Tour, but that tour gets very few reviews.

“Not a word was said about them, was it?” said Norman. “But why is it – why is it on the guys? Why are we the ogres? What did we do wrong?”

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