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Soft power and soft disempowerment: Qatar, global sport and football’s 2022 World Cup finals

Brannagan, PM and Giulianotti, R (2015) Soft power and soft disempowerment: Qatar, global sport and football’s 2022 World Cup finals. Leisure Studies, 34 (6). pp. 703-719. ISSN 0261-4367

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Abstract

This paper examines the critical role of global sport within Qatar’s international strategy, most notably through the successful bid to stage the 2022 football World Cup. Our discussion draws particularly on interviews with key stakeholders in the Qatari sport system, as well as fieldwork in Qatar and the analysis of relevant documents and secondary materials. The paper is separated into five main parts. First, we set out our theoretical framework, which draws on the concepts of globalization and soft power; to assist in the analysis of Qatar’s engagement with global sport, we introduce the two further concepts of ‘glocal consciousness’ and ‘soft disempowerment’. Second, we provide the reader with background information on Qatar and Qatari sport. Third, we discuss three key themes that emerged mainly from our interviews on Qatar and global sport: exhibiting Qatar’s supremacies as a microstate; the pursuit of peace, security and integrity; and confronting national health crises. Fourth, we explore issues of soft disempowerment and reputational risk with regard to these three themes and, in particular, critical international comment surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Fifth, we conclude by arguing that Qatar’s soft disempowerment, although damaging in the short term, leaves the door open for the state to respond in a positive manner, regenerating its soft power capabilities in the process.

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