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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Sports And Politics Inseparable

The Qatari pressure puts in a different perspective the Gulf state’s endorsement of expressions of support for the Palestinians during the World Cup in the form of pro-Palestinian flags and T-shirts and a refusal by Qatari and Arab fans to engage with Israeli reporters covering the tournament. Despite refusing to follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in recognising Israel without a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Qatar has a long-standing working relationship with the Jewish state that serves the interests of both countries.

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If the Qatar World Cup proved anything, it’s that sports and politics are inseparable. Siamese twins joined at the hip. Politics popped up at every twist of the World Cup’s Road, whether related to the right of freedom of expression of players, sports commentators and fans; anti-Government protests in Iran; anti-Israeli sentiment among Qataris and Arabs; a backlash against Western, particularly German, critics of Qatar; or ultra-conservative religious rejection of soccer as a sport. Qatari efforts to stage manage the intrusion of regional politics ranged from picking and choosing which protests fit its foreign policy agenda to seeking to ensure, where possible, that events elsewhere in the region would not overshadow or inflame passions during the World Cup. Amid escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Mohammad al-Emadi, the Qatari official handling Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, travelled to the region to ensure that it and Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based organisation, would not respond with rockets to Israeli use of lethal force against Palestinian militants on the West Bank.

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The Qatari pressure puts in a different perspective the Gulf state’s endorsement of expressions of support for the Palestinians during the World Cup in the form of pro-Palestinian flags and T-shirts and a refusal by Qatari and Arab fans to engage with Israeli reporters covering the tournament. Despite refusing to follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in recognising Israel without a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Qatar has a long-standing working relationship with the Jewish state that serves the interests of both countries. The Gulf state, often at Israel’s request, has pumped millions of dollars into paying Government salaries in Gaza, providing aid to thousands of families affected by past wars, and funding fuel for the Strip’s power plant as well as infrastructure projects. Moreover, Qatar became the first Gulf state to put money into Israel when it funded 2006 a six-million-dollar stadium in the predominantly Israeli Palestinian town of Sakhnin, an investment long before the UAE-led Arab recognition of the Jewish state 14 years later.

As a result, allowing expressions of pro-Palestinian sentiment during the World Cup served multiple Qatari purposes. It gave a release valve to Qataris, a minority in their own country, who were concerned about the impact on their society of the Government’s live-and-let-live approach towards soccer fans with very different cultural values visiting their country during the World Cup. Qatar feared that allowing stadiums to become venues of confrontation between opponents and supporters of the Iranian Government could have persuaded Iran to rank the Gulf state, alongside Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, as an instigator of sustained anti-Government protests in which security forces have killed hundreds. As a result, Qatar sought to prevent anti-Government banners, T-shirts, and pre-revolution flags from entering stadiums. The problem resolved itself when Iran was knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage. Yet, the larger issue remains. The Qatar World Cup demonstrates that FIFA’s insistence that sports and politics can be separated amounts to a political fantasy. More concerning than that, it enables FIFA and autocratic World Cup hosts like Qatar to decide what are convenient and inconvenient expressions of politics. That hardly makes for a level playing field, the starting point for any sport.

 

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The Hills Times
The Hills Timeshttps://www.thehillstimes.in/
The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
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