University of Bayreuth, Press Release, No 203/2022 - 16 December 2022
Expert's Opinions on the end of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar
Researchers of the University of Bayreuth criticise, but also point to positive effects of what is probably the most controversial soccer World Cup of all time: The analysis ranges from "scene of criticism by Arab spectators of the political conditions in the Middle East" to "climax of the abuse of sports and event culture" and "lesson in state and association failure".
Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Seesemann, Chair of Islamic Studies and spokesperson of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence, points out different perspectives: "As an Islamic scholar who can decipher the local cultural and linguistic references in connection with the World Cup, I am particularly struck by the discrepancy between how the World Cup is perceived from a Western and an Arab perspective. In 2022, Qatar invoked traditional Arab hospitality and invested around 200 billion euros to stage a World Cup that was as perfect as possible. This achievement disappeared in Western Europe behind criticism of the human rights situation of migrant workers and LGBTQ people. Of course it was important to address these serious problems and insist on change, but unfortunately anti-Arab and anti-Islamic prejudices also broke out in many statements." Seesemann also points out: "FIFA is primarily concerned with economic interests and not with morals, but its president Gianni Infantino was right at least on one point: the accusations directed at Qatar spoke of a lot of self-righteousness and arrogance. It did not escape people in the Arab-Islamic world that these accusations came from countries that colonised and exploited other parts of the world and where homosexuals were prosecuted until recently."
This politicisation of soccer will have a much more lasting effect on the region than the 'One Love' armlet could ever have.
The Islamic scholar draws attention to aspects that, in his opinion, received "virtually no attention" in the local media: "The World Cup not only provided a stage for the parade of Arab monarchs, but it was also the scene of criticism by Arab spectators of the political conditions in the Middle East. The song Rajawi Filastini, which accuses the Arab rulers of abandoning the Palestinians, became the unofficial World Cup anthem and was sung in all stadiums and on the streets. Morocco's unexpectedly good performance also has unmistakable political dimensions, such as the Islamic prayers and symbolic actions of many players, or the articulation of African and Berber identity that puts Arab nationalism into perspective. This politicisation of soccer will have a much more lasting impact on the region than the 'One Love' armlet could ever have."
Prof. Dr. Markus Kurscheidt, Chair of Sports Science II and expert on governance in sport, considers the armlet campaign to be nothing more than "well-intentioned symbolic politics". In his own words, he is "stunned" by the World Cup that has just ended: "Corruption in the awarding of contracts and all the way to the European Parliament, in some cases already secret service influence practices with bought fans, influencers and celebrities as World Cup ambassadors, democracy and human rights issues, embellished environmental balance sheets - all restrained or even benevolently accompanied by the football associations: The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar represents the height of abuse of the sport and event culture. It is staggering how blatantly FIFA and Qatar pursue their sports- and greenwashing in front of the world public."
The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar represents the pinnacle of the abuse of sport and event culture.
The expert on club and association structures in sport states: "All relevant institutions seem to have capitulated to this. The 2022 World Cup is a lesson in state and federation failure. Sometimes even the media fell for the manipulations. In the course of this, justified and quite constructive criticism was repeatedly discredited as 'eurocentric', discriminatory or 'imperialistic'. We have experienced an unprecedented distortion of facts and arguments, which was ultimately displaced by the fascination of soccer. One can no longer speak of 'over-commercialisation' or mismanagement of soccer. Here, money was a means to an end. This was about hard-core geopolitical power politics and personal enrichment reminiscent of organised crime."
Kurscheidt emphasises: "I feel like a 'climate scientist of soccer'. Despite all the findings, world soccer is heading for its demise. We are investigating the advancing global warming in world soccer and are warning with our findings of the demise of the soccer world if action is not taken immediately. Meanwhile, those in charge create one working and advisory group after another and shimmy from one press conference to the next instead of tackling the problems strategically and consistently. And they do so on a solid basis of values and in solidarity with the fans and active players as the largest and most important stakeholder group. If the polar bears had a say in climate change, we would already be much further ahead. The same applies to the fans and the soccer base, who feel increasingly alienated from the association leaders and 'big world soccer'."
It is not so much the sporting achievements that will be remembered, but rather discussions about corruption, human rights or working conditions on World Cup construction sites.
Prof. Dr. Tim Ströbel, Professor Marketing & Sports Management, assumes that the FIFA World Cup in Qatar will go down in history as one of the most controversial sporting events: "It is not so much the sporting achievements that will be remembered, which are actually the focus of this event, but rather discussions about corruption, human rights or working conditions on World Cup construction sites." These aspects have also left their mark on marketing: "Media report critically, sponsors avoid attention-grabbing appearances or even withdraw completely, federations and players are expected to take a stand, next to and even on the pitch." Communication and brand management are of great importance in this case. According to the marketing expert, the brands involved should have asked themselves early on: How do I position myself with regard to the discussions surrounding the World Cup? "These discussions were to be expected, the World Cup was awarded many years ago and was viewed critically from the beginning. Time enough to develop a strategy and align brand management accordingly," Ströbel continues.
In this context, however, it must be taken into account that the FIFA World Cup is a global mega-event. Participating sponsor brands are therefore trying to adapt their communication, for example, to corresponding market conditions. However, due to digitalisation and global reporting, this strategy can quickly lead to a loss of authenticity. From the point of view of brand management, clear signals could, even should, have been set. The discussion about the 'One Love' armlet is exemplary of this. "The idea was conceived at relatively short notice, but had to be withdrawn by the DFB and other associations due to sporting constraints and increasing pressure from FIFA. Of course, this has an influence on the perception of the brand, especially due to the fact that many players are involved in this perception. Brand management is not an isolated and completely controllable process, but is dynamically and actively shaped by various players. From the DFB's point of view, it is therefore crucial to involve relevant stakeholders, such as fans and sponsors, but also the media, players and politicians, and to offer them opportunities to help shape the brand. This approach brings with it many challenges, but also offers an enormous opportunity for the future.