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February 9, 2016
Why is Qatar investing so much money in sport?

A shot from inside Qatar's government funded Aspire Dome (Photo: Carlo Pozzoni)
by Xinyu Yang, AIPS Young Reporter, China

DOHA, February 9, 2016 - With the arrival of more than 230 sports journalist from over 100 countries to Doha for the AIPS congress, Qatar has once again come under the spotlight for its massive investment in sport. And the nation,in its bid to become the center of sporting universe, is hosting almost 100 sporting events each year. According to Time magazine, Qatar, with its two million population, only 225,000 of which are Qatari citizens – will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup. So what we could ask is: Why is the country investing such astronomic figures in sport?

Let’s take a look at their economic structure first. Qatar is a country famous for its hydrocarbon-based economy. But it is not as true anymore. According to the CEO of the Qatar Financial Center Authority (QFCA), the non-oil sector’s contribution to Qatar GDP will be 70% by 2017. The country is shifting from a hydrocarbon-based economy to a more diverse and sustainable one. Among all of the sectors, given that Qatar has become the host of largest number of sporting events worldwide, sport is playing fast growing role in Qatar’s economy. Sport is a soft power that has changed the appearance of the country as whole in the last 10 years.

On an international level, Qatar’s investment in sport has nothing to do with competing with other nations, but with bringing the nation onto the map. The main goal is to gain recognition and gives Qatar the opportunity to develop a profile and prestige.

An official source from the Qatar Administration said:Twenty years ago, people in other countries had no idea what Qatar was. We were a Middle Eastern country with a very strong economy but no prestige. It is sport that has changed the whole image. In 2006, we held the Asian Games and let Asia get to know us. From then on, we have been holding more and more events to let people from all over the world know about our country.”

That is also the reason why Qatar Airlines pays so much attention to sport , with the airline having signed a new multimillion sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona, among others. When you open the world map, you see that the Middle East in the center of the world map geographically. Mega sporting events can stimulate Qatar’s tourism industry and increasing the revenue of restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, and of course airlines. According to a report from the World Travel & Tourism Council, the contribution of travel & tourism to Qatar’s GDP was 6.6% in 2015.

On a domestic level, investment in sport can improve the country’s infrastructure, including roads, railways, airports and even telecommunication. Along with this, Qatar is a country with a diverse population. Sport is a tool to unite, integrate people and makes them proud. “When you shake hands with the native Qatar citizens, their hands are fat and smooth”, an official source from Qatar Administration said. “Chronic diseases are a major cause of death in Qatar. And investment in sport can encourage people to live a healthier life.”

Qatar is a good example of how other countries can successfully invest in sport , and how to make their countries become stronger by using sport as a soft power. However, such investments do raise questions, including whether this affects the purity and ethics of sport, and to what extent.

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