The geopolitics of Gulf sport sponsorship

Authors: Natalie Koch*, Syracuse University
Topics: Political Geography, Recreational and Sport Geography
Keywords: political geography; sports geography; Arabian Peninsula; Middle East; sport
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The names of two major Gulf airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates, have saturated the European football scene for many years. In addition to sponsoring some of the most prominent European team, such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, these state-backed airlines are prominent sponsors of a range of other international football clubs, but are also active in motorsports, rugby, tennis, golf, cricket, and equestrian sport. In the World Tour men’s cycling field, Gulf sponsorship has also ticked up in the past several years as well. How should we understand these far-reaching sponsorship agendas in the Gulf? What can they tell us about the politics and ethics of international sport on the Arabian Peninsula? While the most prominent sport sponsorships are rooted in the private sector, these deals also involve significant investments from Gulf state funds – directly and indirectly. In this presentation, I argue that Gulf sport sponsorship deals both reflect and advance the efforts of local leaders to promote a positive image of their countries abroad. Beyond figuring prominently in international imaging campaigns, however, they are also strategic nodes for diverse actors in the Gulf and in the international sporting community to advance various interests: personal, political, financial, and otherwise. Focusing on Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE, this paper shows how sport offers a unique lens on geopolitics in the Arabian Peninsula – and stands to decenter and challenge reductionist perspectives that equate Gulf geopolitics with international conflict and hydrocarbon extraction.

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