In light of the numerous reports of human rights violations and systematic repressions, a growing number of fans and activists are demanding a boycott of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Due to her expertise on autocratic regime stability on the Arabian peninsula, EDP network member Dr. Leonie Holthaus was recently interviewed by the initiative “#BoycottQatar2022” about why hosting major international sporting events is important for the legitimization of the regime.
“Neo-traditional regimes, such as those of the Gulf monarchies, invent traditions that must then be preserved, while seeking to legitimize themselves in the eyes of the local population through economic openings and benefits”, she argues. “I would assume that a World Cup in Qatar offers an opportunity to produce exactly the images required by the regime for its legitimization practices.”
While in March 2021 even the Norwegian and German national soccer teams openly expressed their reservations about Qatar holding the tournament, thus adding momentum to the boycott movement, some experts argue that such a move would only strengthen the regime’s hardliners and stifle first visible steps towards reform. However, according to Dr. Leonie Holthaus, it is quite unlikely that the World Cup will initiate a linear progress in respecting human rights: “It is possible that some improvements will be made in the course of the event, which will then be taken back afterwards. A well-reasoned and communicated boycott could indeed send a strong signal for human rights.”