The impact of the World Cup in Qatar on Arab perceptions and attitudes – Digital Journal

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Photo by Fauzan Saari via Unsplash

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

The opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup was anything but ordinary. Before a ball was kicked around at the newly built Al Bayt Stadium, it wasn’t a soccer icon gracing the pitch, but Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman. His question was designed to reflect the sentiments of traveling fans across the region, as he simply asked, “Am I welcome?”

His answer came from YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftah, a famous online personality who has suffered from Caudal Regression Syndrome since birth. “We put out the call because everyone is welcome,” he said, looking at the decorated actor. “This is an invitation for the whole world.”

This was far from spontaneous, and the heavily written dialogue may have even caused the most cynical viewers to squirm in their seats. But the message was clear. Qatar was here to announce to the world that it is not the discriminatory nation it has portrayed itself to be.

After an exciting four-week competition that culminated in arguably the greatest World Cup final of all time, how has the Qatar 2022 World Cup changed the perception of the Middle East, not just within soccer, but on a broader scale?

Foreign fans in Qatar

Much was made before the tournament about Qatar’s ability to accept fans who did not conform to local laws and customs. In particular, the LGBT community was highlighted as a group at risk. Qatar’s 2004 Penal Code outlaws same-sex sexual activity. Participating countries such as France, Germany and England were forced to reverse their decision to wear rainbow bracelets in support of LGBT rights.

The availability of alcohol in stadiums was another point of contention for fans accustomed to being able to enjoy a drink at halftime. Since Budweiser had already obtained exclusive rights to sell alcohol in stadiums, the decision was reversed at the last moment. Fans would have to settle for Budweiser Zero, a non-alcoholic alternative.

Regardless of their methods, it must be acknowledged that the Qatar 2022 World Cup achieved a remarkably low level of crime. England fans, for example, have a history of raucous behavior at major tournaments. You need look no further than their Euro 2020 final against Italy, hosted at Wembley, for evidence. However, they were praised for their excellent behavior, recording no arrests throughout the tournament. Meanwhile, in England there 531 football-related incidents.

Smoothing laws and online gambling

One thing that is not included in the Qatar Penal Code is online gambling. You won’t find casinos or sportsbooks in the Gulf state, which are illegal. Therefore, it could be assumed that online gambling is also prohibited. It certainly doesn’t fit with his strong religious ethos.

But the general perception in Qatar is that going after locals using offshore gambling accounts is a low priority, reflecting the laws of other countries with similar laws.

Coupled with how far the hosts of the Qatar 2022 World Cup have gone to instill the idea that they are welcoming to all guests and nations, it is not imperceptible that the stance on online gambling in Qatar has softened. , following other MENA countries such as Kuwait. and the United Arab Emirates, which have made significant progress in this field. This is already evidenced by the gaming sites available in MENA countries that are openly discussed on reputable sites like haz-tayeb.com. Online casinos are in the same category, and again, players of games like online roulette and blackjack are rarely prosecuted by the authorities.

If this attitude continues to spill over into other aspects of the nation, it will go a long way toward helping foreign travelers feel more open to spending time in Qatar.

International perception of Qatar

Before the tournament, relations between Qatar and the rest of the football world were already tense. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was one of many top football figures to weigh in on him, blaming the media as one of the main culprits for “allowing this [World Cup in Qatar] happen.”

As the tournament progressed, these views seemed to subside. Low crime rates eased concerns about minority groups traveling to the tournament. The stadiums were well ventilated, allaying concerns that the players would suffer in the Qatari heat. And then there was the final, where one of the greatest soccer players of all time, Lionel Messi, donned a traditional Arabic bisht when he finally won the World Cup at the end of an illustrious career.

The hosts couldn’t have written a more fitting end to the tournament. The images will long linger in the minds of fans and, in turn, will have enhanced the world’s perception of Qatar as a footballing nation.

financial sustainability

When Qatar controversially hosted the 2022 World Cup, one of the most obvious concerns was its lack of infrastructure. As part of a staggering $6.5 billion investment, Qatar created eight world-class stadiums. And their treatment of the workers building those stadiums came under intense and deserved scrutiny.

It would be understandable if this was seen as an act of overindulgence, but Qatar’s post-World Cup actions tell a different story. The stadiums were actually designed to reduce in size after the tournament, with an estimated 170,000 seats donated to underdeveloped countries. The Lusail Stadium, an 80,000 capacity venue that hosted eventual champions Argentina in their semi-final against Croatia, is intended as a future arena for, among other things, affordable housing, health clinics and a school.

A football tournament alone will not be enough to undo the perceived mistakes of the Qatari nation. But the Gulf state has gone to great lengths to show the world that it is open to change. Perhaps Qatar’s message is best demonstrated by Morgan Freeman’s closing remarks at the opening ceremony:

“At the celebration, as we listen to our heroes across all language differences, there is a common thread of hope, joy and respect. We may or may not understand the words, but deep within us, we must understand and appreciate the emotions that connect us all.”

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