Can sport change the face of nations?
From football and golf to tennis and equestrianism, Qatar is continuing to showcase its sporting prowess to the world as it prepares for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – and encouraging people to make the nation stronger and more resilient by embracing sport as a pathway to a healthier life.
Craig L. LaMay, acting dean and professor at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), a Qatar Foundation partner university - spoke about the effects of the major sporting competitions that Qatar is hosting – ahead of the country hosting the Middle East’s first World Cup – on the nation.
“When you bid for these things, you have a bid book and a big part of the bid book is the legacy. These mega-events – when you describe them in scholarship – are called legacy events,” he said. “Whether it's London 2012, Russia 2014, Brazil 2016 – whatever the event – what has changed socially, and what has changed economically?
We can see clearly that the physical landscape has – and will continue – to change. But there's an ambition for this to have changed the culture too.
“Here, we can see clearly that the physical landscape has – and will continue – to change. But there's an ambition for this to have changed the culture too, and Qatar’s National Sport Day is part of that – the idea that you can encourage the community to live more active, healthier lives. So clearly there are consequences, for public health, for public diplomacy, and so on.”
While sport certainly has the ability to make tangible changes to a nation, such as the creation of a public holiday where the community is encouraged to be active, it also has the power to affect the way a country is perceived, both domestically and internationally. And, according to Dean LaMay, not always for the better.
“We can go down the list of famous examples of sports not changing a country's image for the better,” he said.
“China had a rough experience in 2008 [when it staged the Olympics], for example.”
Alternatively, in 2018, Russia successfully hosted the FIFA World Cup, shining a light on what was previously not viewed by many as a tourist destination. During the event, visitors to the country rose exponentially, with the number of foreigners in Sochi increasing by 90 percent.
The idea that sports helped put Qatar on the map is real, totally real.
And, according to the tournament’s organizers, the event went on to boost the Russian economy by hundreds of billions of rubles, with there being a possibility that it would continue to positively impact the country’s economy for a further five years.
Since the 2006 Asian Games, Qatar has continued to impress the wider world with its ability to host world-class sporting events. With the country playing host to a multitude of international, regional, and local sporting competitions on an annual basis, these effects are already been both seen and felt in Qatar and beyond.
“I was brought here to be the head of research for the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum in 2009, and at that time, Qatar was not more than a place close to Dubai,” said Dr. Luis Henrique Rolim, Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum.
Speaking at a recent conference titled Digital Transformation of Sport Media, which was hosted by NU-Q, Dr. Rolim said: “Sports had a huge impact in changing that. So, the idea that sports helped put Qatar on the map is real, totally real.”
However, what about beyond the tournament? The effects remain to be seen, and, as Dean LaMay said: “Ultimately, I see 2022 as the apex, but by no means the end of what comes after.”