BeIN Sports, Neymar and Qatar Diplomacy
Football has prevailed as a sport to neutralize political tensions on various fronts by playing in the field against each other. Let us explore how the World Cup bid, the telecast rights of BeIN Sports and the Neymar transfer may just have asserted Qatar’s status as an Arab superpower at the backdrop of an unprecedented political embargo in the region. Shashank Bhandari at Goalden Times tries to emphasize the political significance of this transfer.
Sports has historically proven to be a great emulsifier to stabilize political instabilities. When cities, states or countries vent out their emotions in the stadium, it further cements the significance and value of sports for the purpose of strategy and diplomacy in the world affairs. This will perhaps be for the first time where the power of sports will seep through political standoff without any rival countries, states or clubs playing against each other. This tiff shall be won through earning the right of hosting a World Cup,acquiring telecasting rights of top football leagues in the world, player transfers and a region’s aspiration to be known for more than oil and war.
An unprecedented deadlock since the last two months has finally seen a breakthrough in the tensions. Qatar has successfully broken the stalemate because of its rich economics backed by some smart conventionally understood “soft” power credentials. It has of course recently billed Qatar a minimum of £198 million in the process. Despite all the criticism and anxiety that the move of the Qatari owned club has stormed the teacup of European football, it is in fact a small price to pay for the city-state to uphold its position as a major stakeholder in the Arab world. It would of course be naïve to ignore or deny the contribution of Al-Sabah, Rex Tillerson, Nawaz Sharif (while he was in power) and the rest of the world who were willing to mediate and negotiate the normality in the situation. One cannot deny various other significant and perhaps bigger logistical issues that is hurting all the stakeholders in this face-off. But it would certainly be negligent to overlook how the role of football as a “soft” power for the purpose of any meaningful resolution has evolved a nation’s status to altogether a new level in the current scenario.
BeIN Sports is the sole broadcaster of all the exciting football action in the Middle East and North Africa. They own the telecasting rights of the English Premier League (which has Abu Dhabi owned club Manchester City), Spanish La Liga (which has Barcelona and Real Madrid), Ligue 1 (which has Neymar in Paris Saint-Germain), German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and the mother of all the footballing action, UEFA Champions League. BeIN Sports was one of the many Qatari entities to face the flak of the embargo as it was immediately withdrawn from the Saudi and Emirati broadcast. There was also total ban of products bearing anything Qatar on them like the football jerseys of Barcelona as they wore Qatar Airways as their sponsors. There was also speculation of PSG and Emirates parting ways as an exertion of further pressure in the Gulf embargo.
One would wonder the timing of such sanctions. Interestingly, the sanctions came right after the UEFA Champions League finals i.e. June 3, 2017. A very convenient timing for the blockade one would think. Of course the timing had more correlation with the OIC and Trump visit, but it does tickle your thoughts towards this. If that thought is not discarded for being over stretched then it could also be presumed that Saudi and allies were expecting Qatar to concede in the given timeline of perhaps a couple of months, i.e. before the new football season starts. The economic and strategic might of Qatar held up its ground for as long as it took the Saudi and allies to retreat and reconsider the stalemate on the chess board. Nobody was taking the initiative to break the ice in this situation. In the meantime the Community Shields and Super Cups kick-started this year’s season. Meanwhile, BeIN Sports also returned to business in the UAE.
While the blockade was to frustrate the economic status of Qatar, it turned around by the succeeding in the most expensive bid that the football world had ever seen (£198 million). The Neymar deal also strengthened PSG and its owner’s case with the Arab fans. One cannot dispute the popularity and enigma that Neymar creates across the world, without any discrimination. It is a known fact that having Neymar on the back of your jersey would increase your sales manifold. So much so the recent confirmation from Emirates spokesperson to “fulfil” its contract of the jersey sponsorship after the Neymar deal can be seen as lowering the guards for truce. This only comes as a turnaround of the speculation of Emirates’ dissociation with PSG for furthering the cause of the blockade, else there was no such need of a press event to what one may consider status quo. Love and fan-following of Neymar transcends genders, colour, language, and specifically the borders in this case. These events are a strong enough indication towards a hopeful resolution of the current situation in the Gulf region.
Football is staple to the Arab way of life. They take their football quite seriously. Qatar through its football investment has made itself part of every Arab household. No matter how much political embargo any dictator wishes to pursue, for the sake of their subjects they will have to accede to the bare minimum Qatar in their lives. When the world was witnessing Arab spring, these prominent Middle Eastern kingdoms survived the brunt because somewhere there was a connection with their masses. The subjects have looked up to their Emirs and they have in turn always accounted for their nationals. This kindness is not just one way traffic descending from the king to his subjects but the other way around too. It is about time for the Kingdoms against Qatar to accept that if football is integral to their sustenance as Arabs, so is Qatar from now on. Therefore, the strategic investments in a sport dear to the region has elevated Qatar as a player of substance in the Gulf region.
When Qatar won the bid for the World Cup 2022, it was harbouring the aspirations of the whole region. Every Arab was as happy as any Qatari because finally someone had successfully put their footballing aspirations on the world map. It was also celebrated by the Arab community for attempting to shift the global perception of the area and the community as being war mongering. One needs to wait and watch whether the Arabs persuade the Saudi-led allies in softening their stand or will it see a scathing backlash from these forces. Looking at the recent trend of the allies, the occurence of the former event seems more plausible at this point in time. The Arabic viewership’s craze and love of football and Neymar might have ignited the engine for resolution, which was making no headway for all this while. Truth be told, Neymar and BeIN Sports have broken the ice which was taking its time to melt.
- Hindustan Times
- The National
- The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE)
- Khaleej Times