Qatar will soon make history. On Sunday, it will be the smallest country that will host the biggest sporting event in the world. To understand the difference, consider the major countries that have hosted the previous two FIFA World Cups: Russia and Brazil.
While “soft power” and “intellectual power” in Qatar’s diplomatic writings have been recognized by many at this point, the World Cup needs to be viewed more from the perspective of international relations. As post-colonial scholars such as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak (PDF) have argued, Euro-American thought has been defining what is “good” while highlighting how the “other” of the East is represented.
The World Cup provides an opportunity to renew these issues.
After all, there is something magical about the World Cup taking place in Qatar. Since winning the bid to host the 22nd edition of the World Cup, Doha has been counting on international exposure, investing money from the hydrocarbon industry to make better use of infrastructure in the country – especially roads, transport and technology.
Qataris have transformed themselves into information technology users. Doha continues to be transformed at a rapid pace, from a pearl village to a smart city and home to various foreign destinations. It is a state-of-the-art technology, giving Qataris access to digital communication and connectivity, whether in energy governance, good banking or health.
However, even though football stadiums are supposed to promote international cooperation and the spirit of sportsmanship, there is no escape from other things in international meetings like the biggest party of football. In this regard, this shows a sustained, relentless and racist campaign by the West against Qatar in the coming years at the World Cup.
How can one explain how Qatar was insulted if no one has experienced it before? Not some small country with bad weather, like Switzerland in 1954. Not a powerhouse like the United States, where the Los Angeles area hosted the final of the World Cup in 1994, just two years after one of the worst riots of in the country in decades. Not Mussolini’s fascist regime and Argentina’s brutal army. Not Brazil, where favelas were evicted as the country seemed to hide its poverty from fans attending the 2014 World Cup. Not Russia, which hosted the 2018 event amid homophobia.
These countries were seen as legitimate hosts – no matter what they did – because, somehow, football was and seemed to belong to them. In contrast, Qatar was vilified when it won, seen as an outsider disrupting the party of the elite.
In fact, like other Arab countries, Asia, Africa and South and Central America, football came to Qatar through colonial rule, when the country was a British protectorate between 1916 and 1971. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), British director. Petroleum (BP), began exploring and producing oil in the late 1930s. Football followed in the 1940s. The Doha stadium was the first grass football stadium in the Gulf region. League competition began in the 1960s, a few years before independence.
Surprisingly, studies of postcolonialism have not said much about football – although many colonial cities have produced great stars, from Pele in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Raheem Sterling in Kingston, Jamaica. Many Arab players – from Algerian Rabah Madjer to Egypt’s Mohamed Salah – have also traveled as routes to rich European clubs.
The football World Cup should not be just a new way of copying the culture of the old regimes. Although Western football is struggling to deal with racism – Brazilian player Richarlison was recently thrown a banana during a friendly match in Paris – Qatar’s edition of the World Cup could help to dispel negative feelings about Arab and Muslim teams using their different cultures to enrich themselves. international football events.
For example, Qatar’s alcohol-free stadiums during the World Cup could be an example. They have allowed more people to come to the games without worrying about the alcohol-fuelled violence, racism and profanity that takes place in football stadiums in Europe. As Qatar welcomes fans from all over the world, it can show a different way to enjoy the game – one that doesn’t take advantage of being a football fan and ignore what Qatar loves.
Qataris are used to having foreigners and the World Cup is another opportunity to show their multiculturalism in order to counter Western stereotypes of “Muslim bigots” – as seen recently in French anti-Islamophobic and racist cartoons depicting the national team. Qatar.
By telling another story about how the Islamic world and football are perceived in the West, this World Cup could help to remove the language of the game. “European football” is not white. “African” or “Arab” football are not symbols of race or ethnicity. However these inscriptions are used as codes for the main clans and clans in most cases where the game is played.
That is where colonialism can act as a remedy, by placing – to paraphrase Harvard University professor and critic Homi K Bhabha – the old ruler between countries of different forms.
The Arab world is full of literary ideas that have dealt with parallels and contradictory encounters in their work – and this can be a source of inspiration as the region looks to embrace the world on its terms. Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih’s 1966 book Season of Migration to the North covers the central point of Bhabha’s presentation.
The Saudi Arabian intellectual Abdulrahman Munif coined a special word: al-teeh (waste, confusion). His famous five-volume book, Cities of Salt (Mudun al-Milh, published in 1984), is one of the best examples of post-colonial scholarship. It tells the story of political, economic, environmental and cultural destruction when the neo-coloniser (American capitalism and petrodollars) and the neo-colonised (Gulf) meet.
These articles are effective reminders that hosting and organizing the FIFA World Cup is beyond the pale of European life.
During the colonial period, Arabs promoted anti-colonialism, among other things, wearing local clothes and ensuring that they preserved their culture. Today, they wear the Arabic “thobe” (ankle-length robes) made from Japanese fabrics. This shows a mix of the international and the local – in a way that Qatar and Arab countries can be attracted to when the region hosts major sporting events.
The FIFA World Cup should be a shared space for modernity that is neither white nor colonial. Modernism that speaks to Arab, Asian, African, Indigenous and Latin values of tolerance, human rights and good governance, and challenges the stereotypes often presented in the Global South.
Modernism that demands a just, equal and – non-colonial world, questions and rejects neo-colonising regimes. A modernism that calls for cultural independence, and affirms a shared future with mutual respect.
Through the World Cup in Qatar, the “beautiful game” can help break down colonialism and cultural oppression in our multicultural country.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect Al Jazeera’s influence.