The organization of the World Cup in Qatar is a victory for globalization

Bloomberg published an article by journalist Adrian Wooldridge in which he says that in the coming weeks the world will unite, not by a hidden hand, but by a visible football boot, as billions of people watch the World Cup in Qatar (in 2018, about 3.5 billion people watched More than half of the adults in the world were part of the tournament, and more than a billion watched the final.

Rivers of money will be spent on persuading these fans to sip different types of soft drinks and hamburgers in the name of athletic prowess.

No other sport comes close to soccer in its global reach.

American football has failed miserably in its attempt to cross the Atlantic. American baseball is limited to small parts of Latin America and pockets of Asia. The existence of cricket is limited to the ancient British Empire. Golf is universal yet specialized.

As for football, it is watched wherever you can get a TV signal and played wherever you can buy a round ball. Even Osama bin Laden, an Arsenal fan, encouraged his troops to play football when they were trapped in Afghanistan.

The globalization of the beautiful game continues to gain momentum.

Xi Jinping has set China an ambitious goal of hosting and winning the World Cup by 2050. After Qatar beat out to host the tournament in 2022, the United States will host the 2026 World Cup along with Canada and Mexico. As women’s football gains momentum and the sport’s association with male violence diminishes, at least in Western Europe, football is also gaining more female fans: in the last World Cup, 40% of the spectators were female.

The World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off on November 20, will be a first in many ways. This is the first time that the World Cup is being held in a country with an Arab and Muslim majority.

This is the first time the Cup has been held in winter (the organizers had to abandon the original plan to hold the games in summer when the temperature reaches 47 degrees Celsius in Qatar). Above all, this is the first time that the Trophy has been used as the centerpiece of a massive development project.

Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family is using the country’s unprecedented wealth of liquefied natural gas to ensure its long-term security and prosperity. In the mid-1990s, it built a multi-billion dollar air base, which it gave to the United States, and launched Al Jazeera, which is now a global media network. Since then, it has increasingly focused on the reputation-boosting (hopefully revenue-generating) power of football.

Qatar Sports Investments bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011 and transformed a crumbling French club into a European powerhouse. Many Qatari organizations have sponsorship deals with European brand clubs such as Barcelona (£30m annually for shirt sponsorship), Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and ASC Rome.

The government is also spending heavily on the Qatari league at home, reviewing soccer skills for every 12-year-old Qatari, with unlimited support for top players, and scouring Africa for future stars.

Since winning the bid to host the World Cup in 2010, Qatar has spent more than $250 billion on soccer-related development, surpassing the estimated $42 billion that China spent on the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the $55 billion that dwarfed Russia’s spending on the 2014 Winter Olympics. Ten billion was allocated to eight football stadiums. The rest was devoted to a comprehensive transformation of the country: a complete redesign of downtown Doha, the construction of nearly a hundred new hotels, and the expansion of the port and airport. a renovated road system; Construction of three metro lines. and a new city with homes for more than a quarter of a million people.

So far, the West has been overwhelmingly hostile to Qatar’s extraordinary project, far more hostile than it was to Vladimir Putin’s excursions four years ago. The list of charges against the petrostate is long: that the ruling family is using the World Cup to consolidate its power. that more than 6,000 people died while realizing the “vision” and that Qatar is hostile to homosexuals and other minorities. That it is outrageous to use a quarter of a trillion dollars of petrochemical wealth to pay for the great sporting spectacle that will encourage more aviation and that Qatar 2022 represents everything that has gone wrong in the beautiful game in the age of globalization.

The Qataris had barely made their case when their World Cup ambassador (and former national player) Khalid Salman described homosexuality as “haram” and a “brain problem”. Many people were not convinced when the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the organizing committee for the Cup, claimed that there had been no more than three “work-related” deaths in the projects it was responsible for. So the World Cup is as good an opportunity as any to ask two questions: How is football shaped by globalization? What is the impact of the violent reaction against the Qataris on the 2022 World Cup?

The globalization of soccer is driven by two major market forces: the teams that can attract the best talent make the most money, and the teams that make the most money can afford the most talent. This led to the creation of premier leagues for soccer teams that were kept away from the rest of the soccer world. It has also led to a boom in cross-border trade: in the English Premier League, the world’s most globalized league, three-quarters of the players and more than half of the coaches were born abroad, and half of the club owners are foreign.

Surprisingly, these market forces are at their strongest in ancient Europe, a continent notoriously reluctant to embrace commercial values, especially when those values ​​are applied to such sacred things as football, originally a working-class sport and still steeped in . With the collective values ​​embodied in the Liverpool anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. America is overdue for soccer, not least because it has pinned hopes that its own version of soccer will become the global game. By embracing open markets in talent and corporate governance, Europe has transformed itself into a global center for investment, pouring money into stadiums, training programs and support staff, as well as a global center of excellence.

European teams won five of the six World Cup titles between 1998 and 2018 and made three quarters of the finalists.

Politics also plays an important role. It starts with the role of international and regional organizations that govern the game: for all its faults, FIFA has followed a strategy of spreading football around the world – hence, says FIFA, its decision to give the trophy to the Middle East and North this year award America next. But it is up to politicians in general to do their part.

Politicians of all stripes, from social democrats like Tony Blair trying to prove he’s a ‘boy’, to autocrats like Vladimir Putin honing their masculine credentials, love to be associated with football. In 1993, Silvio Berlusconi announced his decision to enter politics by saying that he had decided to take the field (“discesa in campo”). He also named his political party, Forza Italia, after the cheers of the national soccer team. President Xi likes to have himself photographed at football-related events, including taking a selfie with David Cameron and Sergio Agüero when he visited Manchester City’s training ground in 2015. Viktor Orbán built a show stadium in his hometown that seats almost 4,000 people, despite the number of local residents not exceeding 1,700 people. In 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked the opening of a new stadium in Istanbul by playing himself and scoring a hat-trick, all on live TV. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un wrote a sports manifesto, “Let us usher in a new golden era of sports power building in the revolutionary spirit of Paektu,” while calling on North Korea to “become the world’s first supremacy in women’s football.” “

These two different forces, commercial and political, can sometimes pull in opposite directions: Britain regularly underperforms at the World Cup because, as the world’s most cosmopolitan market, it loses many of its best players to the countries in which they were born.

She ends up with a group of English-born players who are not used to playing together. But generally these two forces reinforce each other.

The quadrennial World Cup is just one of a number of football festivals, from the European Cup to weekly English Premier League matches, that excite football fans worldwide, from German councilors to the slums of Kenya.

How seriously should we take the backlash against the Qatar Games? The treatment of construction workers in the heat and dust of the desert must have always been appalling. There is no place for bias of any kind in a global event that is broadcast around the world and sponsored by international companies. But we must guard against the tendency to think of football as the embodiment of enlightened Western values ​​now threatened by its association with the Middle East: many football fans, especially in Russia and Eastern Europe, are not forgiving angels, as we saw that many The world’s autocrats are keen to bend football to their political ends.

We also need to realize that $250 billion will bring progress as well as problems in its wake. The Qataris have liberalized many of their policies – you’ll be able to get weak beer near the stadiums and a full range of alcoholic drinks in hotel bars – and are sensitive about their international reputation for gay rights. Salman’s interview was interrupted by an accompanying official. Shining the spotlight has helped improve the country’s lagging labor laws.

Then there is the game itself. I suspect that billions of people will quickly forget their human rights concerns while caught up in World Cup fever. Football is not only beautiful, but also unpredictable – small countries like Croatia can beat giants and obscure players can suddenly turn into superstars.

I also suspect that some people will have a creeping admiration for what the Qataris have done to transform their kingdom for the sake of competition. We live in an age of waning expectations, fickle visions and defensive nationalism. The Qataris bucked the trend by thinking big, embracing globalism and building a pharaonic monument to the world’s most global game.

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