No goals scored for Qatar’s image amid FIFA scandal, expert says

Proposed Qatar stadium
Proposed Qatar stadium

Dr. David Roberts is a lecturer at King’s College London. His research interests have included international relations, domestic politics, energy economics and emerging military doctrine in the Gulf states. His primary focus has been on Qatar’s foreign policy, an issue he tackles in his PHD and book titled “Qatar: Securing a City State with Global Ambitions.”

Prior to moving to Kings College, Roberts was the director of the Doha office of the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank engaged in cutting edge defense and security research. He has written extensively on the Gulf region, with a particular focus on Qatar’s booming economy and how the bid for the 2022 World Cup games will impact the small Gulf state.

Gulf News Journal spoke with Roberts about the current FIFA scandal and how it could impact the growth of Qatar.

GNJ: Given FIFA’s current negative image, are the games becoming a liability to Qatar’s international brand?

Roberts: Qatar has its own branding and image issues to worry about before it gets worried about being associated with FIFA. The human rights angle to its 2022 work, as well as wider development projects in the state, are a source of constant criticism as are its foreign policy entanglements across the Middle East where Qatar often finds itself dealing with Islamist groups of various stripes. Still, the games are a factor that magnify the wider spotlight on Qatar and its various issues, so they are very much a double edged sword.

GNJ: If the games are taken away from Qatar, how will it impact its relationship with foreign investors, particularly British investors.

Roberts: An interesting question. If the tournament is taken away, there will be a bitter reaction in Doha. The trend whereby the state and Qataris feel increasingly isolated and attacked from the west will have reached its apogee. The UK is widely perceived in Qatar to be leading the denigration of Qatar and its 2022 chances, with the British press being seen as unfair, jealous that Qatar is hosting the games, and even racist in the way that there is such coverage of Qatar. I would expect the UK-Qatari business and investment community to feel a certain backlash. Qatar is in any case seeking to increasingly diversify where it invests its money to Asia and this would kick-start that trend.

GNJ: Could there be a positive outcome to the games not being held in Qatar?

Roberts: Qatar does not need any more stadia. And the coverage of the state is becoming, arguably, more trouble than it is worth. Similarly, at a time when the state is engaging in severe financial cuts across most sectors, the chance to not build some 2022 infrastructure would be welcomed. But this is taking a very pragmatic approach to the subject and the emotional side must not be forgotten. As much as Qataris might want to make these savings, most would surely not like to do them because their state was humiliated on the world stage.