When it comes to soft power in the Gulf, there are few tools that the region’s monarchies have embraced more enthusiastically than football. Not only have Gulf Co-operation Council members sought to invest in some of the world’s leading clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Manchester City, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but they have also raced to host major events such as the World Cup. Football’s biggest tournament took place in Qatar in 2022 and Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as the host of the 2034 edition.
It’s easy to see why football is considered a particularly useful instrument of soft power. The world’s most popular sport is followed by billions of fans across all continents. Investing in major clubs guarantees not just considerable revenue but also unrivalled global visibility. Qatar Airways partners with several clubs (most famously PSG in France), Emirates has linked up with Arsenal, AC Milan and Real Madrid, and Etihad has a long-running deal with Manchester City. As a result of these sponsorships, the airlines’ names are splashed across team kits and merchandise. Most of the world’s top-10 football clubs benefit from Gulf money in the form of sponsorship or investment. But as Qatar’s experience of hosting the World Cup showed, the beautiful game can also bring bad publicity. In the run-up to 2022’s tournament, media attention was focused on the country’s abysmal labour conditions and poor LGBT+ rights.
The term “sportswashing” refers to attempts by states with dubious human-rights records to improve their reputation by investing in sport. Such criticisms lost some traction as Argentina’s victory in Qatar – plus Morocco’s success as the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals – grabbed headlines. The image of a triumphant Lionel Messi lifting the trophy while wearing a traditional bisht robe was a major win for Brand Qatar. As it prepares for 2034, Saudi Arabia, which has also faced criticism from international human-rights organisations, will no doubt be trying to work out what lessons can be learned from Qatar’s experience.
Mary Fitzgerald is Monocle’s North Africa correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
Vietnam’s rapidly growing economy, which is expected to be in the global top 10 by the end of the decade, is increasingly appealing to foreign investors who are tempted by the dynamism of the country’s emerging middle class. Ho Chi Minh City is the southern gateway to this growing nation of about 100 million people. Skyscrapers are rising above the shophouses; two-bedroom flats are selling at New York-style prices and Starbucks has established a presence throughout the city.
A Japanese-funded metro is finally ready to begin operating, six years behind schedule. Though one line won’t change the daily commute for everyone, the new public transport infrastructure is a milestone. The next 10 years will bring more luxury apartments and modern shopping centres, as well as prestigious design schools, arenas and a proper conference centre. The longest highway in southern Vietnam will open and a huge international airport will replace the poky Tan So Nhat. All of that construction should mean bigger commercial opportunities, a far better lifestyle and plenty more mayhem.
For Monocle’s full report on the businesses shaping the landscape of Ho Chi Minh City, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’, which is out now.
Snaking across Toronto’s once-industrial eastern skyline are the swooping silhouettes of four sleek new bridges. They are, for the time being, the most visible fixtures of the regeneration of Toronto’s port lands. Once work is complete, the area will include 29 hectares of public parkland, 13 hectares of wildlife habitats, new roads, bus routes and housing for as many as 25,000 people. Its centrepiece will be one of the most ambitious re-naturalisation projects ever undertaken in a city of Toronto’s size: the rerouting of the mouth of the Don river.
The river’s original course was altered in the 1880s to enhance its function as a channel for industrial effluent into the lake. By 1969 the Don had become so polluted that some organisations declared it dead. Now, Waterfront Toronto’s project is allowing populations of bald eagles and mink to return to stretches of the river. Constructing natural flood protection infrastructure of such complexity has not been attempted before and other cities prone to harsh or unpredictable weather will be closely watching what happens when the Don once again finds its flow.
For Monocle’s full report on Toronto’s urban development efforts and more stories to look out for in the year ahead, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’, which is available now.
Holidaymakers usually travel to the Engadin valley for ski runs, boutiques, fine cuisine and five-star hospitality. But comparatively few visitors know that it is also an exalted art hub. More than 70 works including those by German artist Gerhard Richter will be on display at St Moritz’s Hauser & Wirth gallery, the town’s Segantini Museum and the Nietzsche-Haus in nearby Sils until 13 April.
The valleys surrounding St Moritz and Sils have long fascinated Richter and his overpainted photographs on display are as bewitching as the natural landscapes that they depict. “Though these works are small, they have an astonishingly monumental pictorial effect because of their richness of detail and the strong depth effect created by layers of paint and colour interventions,” says Mirella Carbone, artistic director of the Segantini Museum. The works will also feature in a new catalogue from Hauser & Wirth Publishers.
For more Alpine-related stories on businesses, culture and the arts, pick up a copy of Monocle’s winter-themed newspaper, Alpino.
Monocle picks three key events on the near horizon that will shape politics in 2024.
1. Presidential election, Taiwan
Some 19 million people are expected to head to the polls as tensions heighten with China.
2. World Economic Forum, Davos
Key decision-makers from public and private sectors will gather in Switzerland for the forum’s 54th edition.
3. General election, Indonesia
As fake news and disinformation proliferate online, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country will vote on a replacement for the incumbent president, Joko Widodo.
We listen back to one of our favourite conversations from 2023. Calder Walton, a historian of global security, speaks to Georgina Godwin about what secret archives and interviews with former agents can tell us about the century-long secret intelligence war between Russia and the West.