Qatar’s World Cup Is a Win for Globalization

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Never mind the invisible hand. In the coming weeks, the world will be united by visible shoes. The World Cup in Qatar will be watched by billions (in 2018, 3.5 billion people, or more than half of the world’s adults, watched some part of the tournament, and more than one billion watched part of the final). A lot of money will be spent persuading people to consume different brands of soda and sticky burgers in the name of sporting prowess.

No other sport in the world comes close to football. US soccer’s attempt to cross the Atlantic has failed. US baseball only covers pockets of Latin America and Asia. Cricket is limited to the former British Empire. Golf is a very important thing, even though it is spread all over the world. Football can be played anywhere you can watch it, receive a TV signal, and buy a soccer ball. Even Arsenal fan Osama bin Laden encouraged his troops to play football while imprisoned in Afghanistan.

The globalization of the beautiful game continues to gain momentum. Xi Jinping has set an ambitious goal for China to host and win the World Cup by 2050. In 2022, Qatar took over the position, and the United States will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico. As women’s soccer gains momentum and the sport’s association with macho violence declines, at least in Western Europe, soccer is gaining more female fans: 40% of spectators at the last World Cup were women.

The World Cup in Qatar, which starts on November 20, will be the first of several. This is the first time that the World Cup is being held in an Arab and Muslim country. This is the first time the cup has been held in winter (the original plan to host the game in Qatar’s 47-degree summer heat was abandoned). More importantly, this is the first time that the trophy has been used as the centerpiece of a major development project.

Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family is using its vast liquefied natural gas wealth to ensure the country’s security and long-term prosperity. In the mid-1990s, he built a proposed billion-dollar airbase in the United States and founded Al Jazeera, now a global media network. Since then, there has been an increasing focus on football’s power to raise the profile (and generate revenue). Qatar Sports Investments bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011 and turned the French outfit into a European powerhouse. Various Qatari organizations have signed sponsorship deals with European brand name clubs such as Barcelona (£30m a year in shirt sponsorships), Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and AS Roma. The government also spends huge amounts of money to create a Qatari league in their country, test the soccer skills of every 12-year-old Qatari child, provide unlimited support to high-flying athletes, and search Africa for future stars.

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Since winning the World Cup in 2010, Qatar has spent more than $250 billion on football development, compared to China’s $42 billion and Russia’s $55 billion for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 2014 Winter Olympics. Ten billion was spent on eight football stadiums. The remainder is devoted to wholesale transformation of the country: the complete renewal of downtown Doha; build about a hundred new hotels; port and airport expansion; updated road system; creation of three subway lines; and a new city with more than a quarter of a million inhabitants.

So far, the West has been largely hostile to Qatar’s unusual project, far more so than Vladimir Putin’s performance four years ago. The list of allegations that the ruling family is using the World Cup to consolidate its power is long; More than 6,000 people died in the process of realizing the “vision”; Qatar is hostile to homosexuals and other minorities; That it is obscene to see a quarter of a trillion dollars in petrochemical wealth being spent on extravagant sporting activities to encourage more flying; and Qatar 2022 represents everything that has gone wrong with the beautiful game in the age of globalization. Qatari World Cup ambassador (and former national player) Khalid Salman’s description of homosexuality as haram (forbidden) and spiritual damage did not further their cause. Many were not persuaded when the Cup’s organizing commission, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, announced that no more than three “work-related” deaths had occurred in the projects it was responsible for. Therefore, the World Cup is a good opportunity to ask two questions: How is football evolving due to global globalization? What will be the impact of the strike against the Qataris at the 2022 World Cup?

The globalization of soccer is driven by the most basic market forces: The team that can attract the best talent makes the most money, and the team with the most money can pay the most talent. This has led to the creation of super leagues of football teams that have distanced themselves from the rest of the football world. It has also led to the rise of cross-border trade: In the world’s most globalized league, the British Premier League, three-quarters of players, more than half of managers are foreign-born, and half of clubs are foreign-owned.

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Ironically, these market forces are strongest in Old Europe, a continent reluctant to accept commercial values, especially when those values ​​are applied to something as sacred as soccer, which was and still is a saturated working-class sport. It has a collective ideal that is best encapsulated in Liverpool’s anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. America is a backward country when it comes to soccer, and that’s only because it hoped that its version of soccer could become the world’s game. Embracing an open market for talent and corporate control, Europe has transformed itself into a global investment hub, pouring money into stadiums, training programs and support staff. European teams have won five of the six World Cups between 1998 and 2018, providing three-quarters of the national team.

Politics also plays an important role. It starts with the responsibilities of the international and regional bodies that govern the game: It starts with the responsibilities of the international and regional bodies: It starts with the roles of the international and regional bodies FIFA has adopted a strategy to spread football around the world, according to FIFA, the Middle East Cup decided to give. year and next time in North America. But this applies to politicians in general.

From social democrats like Tony Blair to politicians trying to prove they’re “young” to power-crawlers like Vladimir Putin, football likes to be associated with football. In 1993, Silvio Berlusconi announced his decision to enter politics and decided to take the stage (“discesa in campo”). He also named his political party, Forza Italia, after the national football team’s anthem. President Xi enjoys being photographed at football-related events, including a selfie with David Cameron and Sergio Aguero when he visited Manchester City’s training ground in 2015. Viktor Orbán built a show stadium in his hometown and still maintains a show stadium there. With a population of 1,700, the cottage seats about 4,000 people. In 2014, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan scored a hat-trick in a live televised inauguration of Istanbul’s new stadium. In a sports manifesto, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un said, “Let’s start a new golden era of building sports power with the revolutionary spirit of Paektu.” .”

These two contrasting commercial and political forces sometimes pull in opposite directions: Britain, as the world’s most international market, consistently underperforms at World Cups because it loses so many of its best players to its home countries. Stuck with a group of English-born players he wasn’t used to playing with. But in general, these two forces reinforce each other. The quadrennial World Cup is one of many football festivals, from the European Cup to the Premier League’s weekly matches that delight soccer fans from around the world, from the German chancellor to the slums of Kenya.

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How seriously should we take the backlash against Qatar? The treatment of construction workers in the desert heat and dust must have been often terrifying. The global event, broadcast worldwide and sponsored by global companies, is free of prejudice of any kind. But we should be wary of seeing soccer as the embodiment of enlightened Western values ​​that threaten our relationship with the Middle East: Many soccer fans, especially in Russia and Eastern Europe, are hardly angels of tolerance. We have seen that most of the world’s autocrats are interested in bending football to their political ends. We must recognize that while $250 billion will bring progress, it will also bring problems. The Qataris have liberalized many of their policies – you can get weak beer near the stadium and all kinds of alcohol in hotel bars – and have a sensitive international reputation on gay rights. Salman’s “haram” interview was blocked by an escort. Advertising Sun did something about improving the country’s labor laws.

Then there’s the game itself. I think billions of people will be caught up in World Cup fever and quickly forget their human rights concerns. Soccer is not only a beautiful game, but also an unpredictable one – small nations like Croatia humble giants and obscure players suddenly become superstars. And I suspect some people admire the way the Qataris have changed their kingdom for competition. We live in an age of lowered expectations, narrowed vision and defensive nationalism. The Qataris have bucked this trend by thinking big, embracing globalization and erecting a pharaoh statue dedicated to the world’s most global game.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• World Cup Qatar will be great football, but an ugly game: Martin Ivens

• Olympic hype can’t hide China’s World Cup debacle: Adam Minter

• How England’s Journey of Redemption Swallowed My Life: Matthew Brocker

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP or its owners.

Adrian Wooldridge is a global business columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. A writer for the Economist, he most recently wrote The Talented Aristocracy: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World.

More similar stories are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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