...of close relationship between football and politics in the Middle East (JMD at UCFB)
It’s hard to think of anywhere in the world with a faster growing professional sport economy than the Middle East.
Golf’s European Tour Race to Dubai has its showpiece season ender in the Gulf state, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is now firmly placed as the jewel in the crown of the Formula One season and, of course, Qatar is gearing up to host the controversial FIFA World Cup in 2022.
Then there’s the influx of Middle Eastern investors in European football clubs. Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Malaga have all been transformed in recent seasons with billions of pounds being invested into playing squads, stadium infrastructure and worldwide marketing.
Students at the iconic UCFB Wembley campus were given the unique opportunity to quiz James M. Dorsey, a man who knows more than most how sport is used as a political tool in the Middle East. The award winning journalist and author visited UCFB as part of the Executive Guest Speaker Series, a weekly event where students get the chance to hear from and ask questions of those in the football, sport and events industries.
James’ talk came on the back of his recently published book, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, the same name as his critically acclaimed blog.
In the book, like his blog, James describes the relationship between football and politics in the region and North Africa.
Following his lecture, James sat down with UCFB to talk about how the two are so closely linked. He said: “They’re inextricable, incestuous if you wish. Siamese twins joined at the hip. Politics is built into the DNA of football in the region and everything that has to do with football is affected by politics.”
James said that Qatar deny any wrongdoing over the bidding to host the World Cup in 2022 and that hosting the event was about “soft power”, much like other major Middle East events such as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
He said: “Qatar is a small country with 300,00 citizens sandwiched between major countries that are potential threats – Iran and Saudi Arabia. No matter what it invests in the military, both in terms of hiring people from the outside or in military equipment, it will never be able to defend itself. So what it needs to do is ensure that in a time of emergency the international community will be willing to come to its help. One way of doing that is by embedding itself with a popular, or good, perception in the international community. What better way than football.”
James went on to say that the success of title-winning Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez becoming the first Muslim to win the coveted PFA Player of the Year award is something the whole region has taken a huge amount of pride in.
He said: “Football evokes very deep-seated passions across the region. It is the most popular sport by far and plays a very important role in people’s lives. So if one of them succeeds, the region succeeds. And that’s happening at a time in which the region is in turmoil and there’s a lot of prejudice against both Arabs and Muslims. So to be able to project yourself in a very different way on one of the most popular platforms is something that everybody in the region is going to embrace.”