Politics in the Middle East never fails to surprise. This is so true of the 22nd edition of the 32-nation FIFA World Cup. This quadrennial event, which kicked off on 20 November in Qatari capital Doha, is doing what Arab diplomacy could not do all these years. The FIFA spectacle is rekindling fast fraternal feelings in the Arab world. Consider for example, Saudi Arabia’s surprise win over top-dog Argentina on 22 November. How every Arab nation celebrated this historic moment is a case in point. As the orgasmic cries over a mere league victory were heard in distant Cairo, it was football scripting a new chapter in Arab brotherhood.
Football for Pan-Arab Unity
As the jubilant cries rose above the usual Arab din, the FIFA football event was birthing an Arab bonhomie never seen before in recent years. Soccer has brought such joys to his kingdom, Saudi crown prince and prime minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is now vowing to make Saudi Arabia a great sporting nation. He is now aspiring to become an author of Pan-Arab nationalism with football as his goodwill ambassador. The crown prince’s love for Formula 1 races and golf tours is not ending though. Salman has plans to invest more in football as a catalyst for his Pan-Arab dream, as the sport is non-elitist with an appeal transcending class divisions. https://talksport.com/sport/boxing/1135634/saudi-arabia-money-newcastle-boxing-f1-golf-tennis-wwe/
Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world. Slicing across the socio-economic divide, football is a game of the Arab masses. Reason why more Arab nations are now toying with the idea of investing much of their oil fortunes in developing football and its infrastructure on their soil. Far-sighted Arab leaders are eyeing at this obsessive love for football in the region to fill in cracks in the Arab world and usher in Pan-Arab unity. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/11/22/saudi-arabia-world-cup-upset-celebration/
Leveraging Football Infrastructure
As the FIFA league matches progress as scheduled in Doha, signs of such unity happening are sprouting and visible. Pessimistic analysts say these signs are ephemeral. But, the Qatar event’s ability to heal Arab wounds is on clear display and cannot be denied. Political observers expect the joys brought on by the football event to translate into friendship and fraternity, leading to ultimate unity. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/world-cup-saudi-arabia-arabs-unite-jubilation-shock-win#:~:text=Saudi%20Arabia’s%20shock%202%2D1,victory%20for%20t he%20Green%20Falcons.
The unity may take many forms. Sure, the Qatar-built football infrastructure will be leveraged to promote football in the Arab world, hold tournaments across Arab nations and train promising youngsters. Co- operation inspired by sports has greater chances of translating into economic and political gains. The sporting fever caused by the FIFA event in Qatar is so contagious, even the Houthis, a hostile Yemen Zaydi Shia rebel group, are celebrating Saudi Arabia’s football victory over Argentina in the league fixtures.
Soccer Diplomacy at its Finest
Houthis have been fighting against the Saudis, now for almost eight years. Yet, they rejoiced. Political observers in the Middle East may describe this Houthi gesture as ‘soccer diplomacy’. But, the reality on the soccer field is unmissable. Saudis, who are desperate to end the war with Houthis, are viewing the FIFA World Cup as a God-sent opportunity to engineer peace. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/qatar-world-cup-saudi-arabia-win-argentina-yemen-houthis-congratulate
There is more proof to the bonhomie the FIFA World Cup has fuelled. As a beaming Saudi crown prince sat in the royal box in the football match venue, his earlier threat of a Qatar blockade seemed hazy and history. His characteristic ire over Qatar funding Al Jazeera, the television channel which does not shun from criticising even the Arabs, was nowhere on display. His threats to dig a canal on the Qatari border to turn Qatar either into an island or a site for a nuclear-waste dump too were not aired. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-qatar-canal-idUSKCN1LG13H The Emir of Qatar too was reciprocating. He was seen waving the Saudi flag and wrapping it around his neck. Soccer diplomacy at its finest.
Saudi crown prince’s non-political and non-combative demeanour in the royal box may not end strife in the Arab world. The Saudis may still return to battle the Houthis once the Doha World Cup is done and dusted. Yet, the World Cup is an unequivocal demonstration of soccer’s ability to rise above divisive forces. This is FIFA World Cup’s greatest achievement. Who lifts the World Cup on 18 December will cease to matter with the passage of time. Camaraderie and unity among the Arabs alone will matter there on. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/11/22/business/world-cup-advertising/index.html Soccer is set to play a vital destiny-shaping role here.
Here is more to the FIFA football event’s supernatural ability. Despite Saudi crown prince’s scheduled November visit to meet Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio for discussions on stable energy supplies, the fixture was cancelled. This was done on the advice of Salman’s medical staff to refrain from long-haul flights due to an ear condition, says Bloomberg News. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-11-18/saudi-arabia-s-crown-prince-cancels-weekend-trip-to-japan?leadSource=uverify%20wall However, political mavens say the cancellation was done to enable Salman attend the FIFA World Cup’s opening ceremony in Qatari capital Doha. Shows football’s ability to put geopolitical considerations on hold in the strife-torn Arab world.