There are many reasons why a country would want to host a mega sporting affair, be it boosting the domestic economy via tourism (as the United States did with the 1994 World Cup), building rapport in pursuit of international trade opportunities (as China did with the Beijing Olympics), or rebranding its national image (as South Africa did with the 2010 World Cup). In the case of Qatar, the stated objectives of this endeavor are to enhance intercultural understanding and create a legacy of celebrating global community, inclusiveness, and sustainability . The Middle East region has been subject to much negative stereotyping and bad press; as the first Arab and Muslim country to host such a big event, Qatar now has the platform to challenge the misconceptions and reclaim the narrative of its identity.
Construction of Identity
The way we view ourselves is influenced by internal and external factors. We are privy to our own lived experiences and through introspection, craft a narrative of self. We also take heed of how others portray us. When these two versions of the story are at odds, it results in a conflict of ideals, which is why inaccurate representation invokes such feelings of offense: one feels simultaneously unseen and seen negatively. Extrapolated to national identity, the global mainstream media often assumes a Western, Eurocentric gaze, consequently fetishizing or otherizing aspects of minority cultures .
In an increasingly globalized world, where those from minority cultures are constantly exposed to caricatures of their traditions and norms, minorities either internalize the prejudice and grow resentful of their roots, watering down themselves to conform; or externalize it, offering up their own experiences to counter mainstream depictions. Given the imbalance of social capital, the latter frequently comes at great personal expense: as the mainstream audience comes to the defense of their narratives, the minority individual often finds themselves on the receiving end of bigoted vitriol, with no guarantee of narrative change.
Change of Perceptions
Occasions as grand as the World Cup almost always take up space in global consciousness. Qatar expects to welcome between 1.2 and 1.7 million visitors  throughout the tournament and by directly shaping their experiences, will forge a new narrative that they bring home with them. This is the tip of the iceberg. The larger mechanism for change is the showcase effect : the virtual presence of being the World Cup host nation. In this digital age, Qatar will dominate screens – not just on televisions and traditional news media, but on social media platforms and in great detail, with visitors documenting everything down to the micro interactions they have during their stay, from the exchanges they have with the metro staff and Careem drivers, to the experiences they share with security personnel and locals. In simultaneously taking center stage and going under the microscope, these accounts of Qatar will be etched into the collective memory of society. This gives a minority culture an upper hand in confrontations on culture. It is far harder to claim a nation and its peoples are backwards, underdeveloped, or intolerant, if troves of digital archives indicate otherwise. Harder still to stand by such claims, if those from the majority speak of their own experiences that are contrary to prejudiced claims.
On the other hand, this level of publicity may also cast an unflattering light on any perceived flaws of a nation. The global media machine, in pursuit of monopolizing attention, will not stop short of sensationalizing stories and pandering to entrenched preconceived perceptions. In this respect, the showcase effect is a double-edged sword, as matters can be misconstrued or taken out of context for the purpose of infotainment and disseminated by the algorithms of social media platforms. Mishandling or mismanagement by a host nation will likely rapidly make headlines and possibly undercut its successes.
How Identity Can Shape a Nation
Creating a lasting legacy of the country could have a long-term effect on international tourism and geopolitical legitimacy and will definitely influence how the country sees itself. Those who witnessed firsthand the process of transformation often reap far more than just national pride, but also a renewed sense of public imagination, a trust in the vision of the country and a willingness to set differences aside to come together for that vision. This sentiment (in addition to the economic stimulus and increase in security) is one of the factors that might explain the short-term reduction in crime and vandalism witnessed in Johannesburg both in the run-up to and after the 2010 World Cup .
Laws and customs are either a reflection of a society’s self-perceived identity, or a conduit to make alterations to it. In necessitating structural modifications to accommodate mega-events, hosting the World Cup applies to the latter. The growth of a nation involves growing pains: a paradigm shift will undoubtedly create change, and some resistance to change is inevitable. When the goals of a nation are well-integrated with its identity and said identity in turn resonates strongly with its people, those of which compromise is asked, are more likely to be willing to make them, seeing these trade-offs as investments for a better tomorrow. The more people believe and see themselves in a particular ideal, the more involved and invested they will be in playing their part, making change where legislation and enforcement may fall short.
Externally, hosting the World Cup is a projection of international influence through soft power . By signaling to the world that a country can be trusted to take the helm of such a great responsibility, it gains credibility and raises its country profile in the eyes of the world. Additionally, a global event such as this generates opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, particularly among regional partners, which expands and solidifies a nation’s sphere of influence. This accrues in gains that go far beyond the event itself, such as transfer of green technologies, security collaborations, and of course, diplomatic partnerships. Crucially, when a country is the first in its region to host, it establishes its position, and in producing collective benefits for itself and its neighbors, dispels the notion that progress always has to be a zero-sum competition. Thus, this narrative sets the stage for more productive relationships near and far.
Ultimately, a bigger test awaits a host nation once the final whistle is blown. The World Cup, if leveraged well, can be a boon to a nation’s trajectory. Most host nations have great ambitions for what comes next, and Qatar, with its National Vision 2030 , is no exception.
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