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The evolution of sport-politics in the Middle East [Audio]
I was invited to chat with Dr. James M Dorsey about the various aspects of sports in the Middle East. Listen to the discussion below.
I had the pleasure of appearing onto discuss the various aspects of sports in the Middle East. We reflected on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the lack of nuance that accompanies the term “sportswashing,” and the questionable effectiveness of human rights and other campaigns in the lead-up to the tournament.
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Dr. Dorsey and I discussed Saudi Arabia’s growing engagement in international sports, its long-term ambitions, and its pivot to Asia as its primary investment zone. We also touched on the United Arab Emirates’ looming presence on the global stage and its sports rivalry with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States.
Here are some highlights:
James M. Dorsey (41:20):
I think that's absolutely true, and there are two aspects of Asia, which I want to come back to. One is, and in fact, that may be motivated by what you were describing as the Saudis may take their time before they take a second sports initiative in the United States, which may very well be why they're looking at the Cricket Federation and looking at sponsoring or setting up the richest cricket tournament in the world. And cricket really is an Asian sport, and a British sport of course, but very much an Asian sport. There's a second aspect of Asia, which goes back to the fans issue, and that is that if you look at what Saudi Arabia is doing over the next decade, it's almost for 90% major Asian tournaments, the World Cup being an exception. And yet what you're seeing in terms of campaigns by human rights groups, for example, is that Asian events are being ignored. Yet, in many ways it's Asia where it's happening.
Karim Zidan (42:40):
It's really interesting is and it goes to show you just how western-centric a lots of the reporting is, and not just the reporting, but the view of the world. If it's not happening in Europe or in North America, then it isn't worth considering when that's absolutely false. It's that sorts of arrogant thinking that has cost the United States a lot of its foreign policy over the last years and applies all across Europe. To be honest, I don't think they realise just how significant what's happening across the world actually is. Saudi Arabia has also made significant investments in eSports, but everybody only seems to be talking about their eSports and gaming investments when it comes to a big Western brand, but when they're making massive billion investments in China, nobody's talking about that yet. I find that to be far more significant because it highlights this growing China and Saudi Arabia relationship, which I mean is extremely significant on a world stage. Now for those who don't know, I mean, we just witnessed China help broker a historic deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, one that the United States had absolutely nothing to do with.
So, we can see sports as quite symbolic here. What's happening in the world of sports is also happening at large elsewhere right now on a global stage in general. Saudi Arabia is emerging from its conservative past and taking much more control on the global stage and its main target now, much like the United Arab Emirates, is Asia, and that makes a lot of sense. They have some of the biggest Muslim populations in the world in Asia, including in India, So targeting cricket makes a lot of sense for that reason as well. When you're talking about building fan bases around the world, the hardest ones that they were always going to convince were Western audiences for issues of xenophobia, for massive differences in their understanding of thef global politics of democracy…. The steepest uphill battle was always going to be bringing Western audiences onto their side.
I think it's going to be a lot less difficult to convince audiences in the East, let's say for reasons of similarities in culture, similarities in ideals, similarities in religion. I also think we noticed that a bit at the Qatar World Cup. We talk about how difficult it was for some western countries like Europeans say, and North Americans to attend the Qatar World Cup mainly cause of distance because of the various different loopholes you had to go through. I would argue that those are less loopholes than what Arabs and a lot of people around the world go through to get into Europe and North America. Unless you have a really strong passport, you have to get a Schengen visa. Anybody who has gone through the Schengen process knows ut’s horrible, it absolutely is. Getting a visa into Canada or the United States is extremely difficult.
It's only gotten more difficult since Covid. There's a lot of people around the world who couldn't attend the World Cup, even if they had the money to simply because of the passport of where they were born. So Qatar in many ways was actually an equalising factor when it comes to how we host the World Cup and who's allowed to attend the World Cup. Qatar gained a lot of fans from its attendees in the Middle East and in that region of the world, there were a lot more Moroccans, who were able to go appreciate Morocco's success of the World Cup than they ever would've been if this was 2026 and it was being hosted in Canada, the US and Mexico because they would've needed those visas. Canada doesn't hand out visas left, right and centre. It really, really doesn't. Same thing for the United States, same thing across Europe. It's only getting more difficult and as you know, economic issues continue to take place. Political issues take place and across Africa and across the Middle East, those visa issues aren't going to get any easier. Crossing borders are going to get more difficult. So, in many ways, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are targeting a region of the world that makes sense for them right now.
Listen to the complete recording below:
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