US and Swiss investigations into corruption in world soccer governance are likely to expand from FIFA to regional football bodies, prominent among which the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The fall out of the worst crisis in football history is not simply a governance issue but is likely to have significant geopolitical fallout, particularly in West Asia or the Middle East. The obvious geopolitical question is whether Qatar will be able to retain its right to host the 2022 World Cup against the backdrop of mounting evidence that the Gulf State bribed its way to success.
Depriving Qatar would not simply further tarnish the Gulf state’s image. It would fortify a widespread sentiment across the Middle East and North Africa that the West is prejudiced against Arabs and Islam at a time that youth in many of the region’s countries is at risk of radicalizing in the absence of hope and opportunity to release pent-up anger and frustration. Moreover, the question is whether retribution in the form of depriving it of its World Cup hosting rights would be the most productive response to assertions of bribery. This is all the more relevant given that in principle Qatar did what most other bids did. In doing so, they were playing the game the way it was played in FIFA.
In fact, the bribery allegations weaken Qatar and strengthen the possibility of the Qatar World Cup becoming a rare example of a mega sporting event that leaves a legacy of social, economic, and possibly even political change rather than one of debt and white elephants. While Qatar is the issue that has attracted significant attention, equally important is the fact that the fallout of the FIFA scandal is likely to also weaken if not undermine the grip of representatives of autocratic Middle Eastern regimes on sports and soccer governance in Asia. In doing so, it undermines autocratic control in the Middle East of the most popular expression of popular culture that repeatedly in the past century constituted a platform for challenging authoritarian and colonial rule.
About the Speaker:
JAMES M. DORSEY is a Senior Fellow focused on the Middle East and North Africa who publishes widely in peer-reviewed journals as well as non-academic publications. A veteran, award-winning foreign correspondent for four decades in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Financial Times, James has met a multitude of the region’s leaders. As a journalist, James covered primarily ethnic and religious conflict. James writes a widely acclaimed blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has a forthcming book with the same title, and authors a syndicated column. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences, workshops and seminars and is consulted by governments, corporations and judicial authorities. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of Utrecht. James won the Dolf van den Broek prize in 2003 and was a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 and 1988 as well as was a finalist for the 2012 European Press Prize; the Kurt Schork Award and the Amnesty International Media Award in 2002 and the Index on Censorship Award in 2012.