The Rise of Gulf States’ Investments in Sports: Neither Soft Power nor Sportswashing?

Majd Abuamer, Doha Institute: The Arab Center For Research and Policy Studies and Yara Nassar, Doha Institute: The Arab Center For Research and Policy Studies


Mansour bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) owns Manchester City; Nasser al-Khulaifi of Qatar owns Paris-Saint Germain (PSG); Abdullah bin Masaad of Saudi Arabia owns Sheffield United; Infinity Capital of Bahrain owns Córdoba Club de Fútbol; Qatar Airways partners with numerous soccer clubs, most famously with PSG; Emirates Airlines has partnered with Manchester City and Real Madrid; and Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan of the UAE recently proposed to buy a fifty percent stake in Beitar Jerusalem Football club, which has been linked to the far right in Israel. Reporting on these partnerships, Brand Finance noted that “half of the top 10 football club brands are benefiting from Arabian Gulf investment in sponsorship and ownership.”[1]

Why are Gulf states increasingly investing in sports, especially international top-tier football clubs, and how do such investments benefit Gulf nations? This paper situates the Gulf at the intersection of sports and politics to inspect the collective rising interest in sports among Gulf states, mainly Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. This study presents the forms through which these sports interests are manifest, and explores the drivers underlying such investment. It argues that intra-Gulf competition, soft power, sportswashing, and economic diversification are all motives of Gulf states’ investments in local and international sports and their hosting of international sporting events.

Europe as an Epicenter of Sport Investment

States and governments around the world have long controlled sports and clubs, instrumentalizing them for diplomatic ends,[2] including for purposes of propaganda, prestige, foreign relations, and recognition in the international arena.[3] For example, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in Nazi Germany and the 1972 Munich Summer Games were used as attempts to magnify German pride both locally and in the world,[4] and contributed to delivering particular political messages.[5] Similarly, the 1995 South African Rugby World Cup signaled an important political message regarding the end of Apartheid,[6] as did the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games when the state publicly regretted the treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal people.[7] For China, hosting the 2008 Olympic Games was an opportunity to redefine its image worldwide at a time when the country was emerging as a global economic power.[8]

For a long time, non-democratic countries were unconcerned about embracing the international diplomacy of sport,[9] and did not see its value in terms of diplomacy and generating immediate benefits.[10] However, over the past two decades, interest in sports emanating from unconventional stakeholders has been on the rise. The wealthy Gulf states, looking to diversify their hydrocarbon economies, have found welcome in the cash-hungry international sports sector. In 2010, at a time when the Gulf states were not necessarily leaders in the field of sports, Sepp Blatter, the former President of FIFA (1998–2015), announced that “We go to new lands” with Qatar’s winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup.[11] Similarly, other countries such as Belarus, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, and Azerbaijan have demonstrated a recent interest in sports.[12]

The Gulf states’ particular interest in European football clubs stems from these teams’ significant financial performance determined by liquidity, leverage, and sporting performance. European football clubs are increasingly profitable businesses.[13] Figure 1 lists the revenues football club investors can expect to gain from “matchday sales, stadium hiring fees, sponsorship deals, merchandise sales, TV broadcasting deals, prize money, and player transfers.”[14] These statistics demonstrate that a football club can be profitable even if it does not win trophies. Among the top twenty European football clubs shown in Figures 1 and 2, Gulf states invested in at least eight: the UAE invested in Manchester City, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal F.C., and AC Milan; and Qatar invested in FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Paris Saint-Germain. The Gulf states’ investment in sports, especially in European football, represents a remarkable economic opportunity, as well as the more symbolic benefits of nation branding.[15]

Figure 1: Revenue of Professional League Football Clubs in 2022 (in million U.S. dollars)


Source: Mike Ozanian and Justin Teitelbaum, “The World’s Most Valuable Soccer Teams 2022: Real Madrid, Worth $5.1 Billion, is Back on Top,” Forbes, May 26, 2022,

Figure 2: Operating Income of Professional League Football Clubs in 2022 (in million U.S. dollars)

Source: Ozanian and Teitelbaum, “The World’s Most Valuable Soccer Teams 2022,”



Forms of Gulf State Sports Investments

Association Football was founded in English public schools in the nineteenth century.[16] In 1904, European Football Associations founded FIFA as the governing body of football globally, with the first World Cup tournament held in 1930.[17] While the history of institutionalized sports in the Gulf region tends to be relatively recent in global terms, and while some argue that Gulf countries lack a footballing culture,[18] the game is deeply rooted in terms of the history of the countries themselves, with many Football Associations in the Gulf first established along with the founding of the states: Saudi Arabia in 1956, Bahrain in 1957, Qatar in 1960, UAE in 1971, and Oman in 1978. More recently, in the 2000s, Gulf states’ increased interest in sports at local and international levels became institutionalized in their various modernization projects. These were enshrined in national state “vision” policies aimed at achieving infrastructure investments, diversified industries, business-friendly environments, and improved productivity. Various local factors have contributed to Gulf state investments in national and international sports, including prosperous hydrocarbon economies that have been used to “diversify state revenues by developing and promoting other industries, for instance tourism and industries related to hospitality, real estates, retail sectors, technology, communication, and finance.”[19]

Most Gulf state investments in international sports takes the form of sponsoring or investing in foreign clubs, and seeking membership or leadership of regional and international sports federations. Sports revenues, especially from European football clubs, have acted as a motivation for Gulf states’ international investments, and their hosting of international tournaments are both an economic diversification strategy and a way of positioning the Gulf countries more prominently in the world.[20] The UAE became the first Gulf state to invest in a foreign club when the Abu Dhabi United Group bought Manchester City at the end of 2008 for $360 million.[21] The Royal Emirates Group invested £90 million in Getafe CF in 2011, and Fly Emirates sponsored Real Madrid in 2017 with $336 million.[22] In Saudi Arabia, businessman Ali al-Faraj invested a 90 percent stake in Portsmouth Football Club in 2009.[23] In 2011, Qatar purchased Paris Saint-Germain, which then bought some of the best players in the world, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar da Silva Santos Jr, and Kylian Mbappé. Qatar also invested in Malaga FC and KAS Eupen. Capitalizing on such endeavors allowed Qatar “to set a training strategy where young Qatari players can train and compete at the best European level.”[24] Qatar also sponsored FC Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Club Atlético Boca Juniors, and AS Roma, and became an official FIFA partner, sponsoring global competitions such as the Club World Cup, the World Cup, and the eWorld Cup.[25] More recently, the Raine Group, responsible for the sale of Manchester United, contacted the Qataris to see if they might be interested in buying the club,[26] and Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani responded by submitting three bids to buy the club, the final one in late April 2023.[27] As a means of advancing nation branding, some Gulf countries became known due to their names appearing on sporting t-shirts. Between 2013–2017, Qatar became the kit sponsor of FC Barcelona with Qatar Foundation, and later with Qatar Airways; and Emirates Airlines made contracts with seven European football clubs, with its logo appearing on the jerseys of Arsenal F.C., Real Madrid CF, A.C. Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Hamburger SV, Olympiacos F.C., and S.L. Benfica. Etihad Airways also sponsored Manchester City, New York City FC, and Mumbai Indians cricket team.

In Europe, country-specific regulations and national structural factors can facilitate or hinder Gulf state investments in sports, which are evident in the pattern of where these investments are located geographically. Gulf investors are mostly attracted to the Premier League, La Liga, and Ligue 1, which offer more flexible ownership structures than some other European countries. Regulations in Germany, for instance, are “very different to those in Spain, the UK, and France due to the 50+1 rule that stipulates that a club must retain at least 51 percent of shares in its professional football team.”[28] As opposed to Germany, where foreign investment is limited to ensure the stability of ticket prices—which would rise if the game was commercialized—Gulf investments in England are attributed to the “levelling up agenda” intended to reduce economic inequality between the southeast and the English peripheries, with enhanced capital flows from the Gulf states.[29] This is not to say that Gulf states are bound to or interested in local British initiatives, but that Gulf capital flows will act as a way through which the British government can claim the success of its proposed initiative—an opportunity that is likely to be seized by the Gulf states. Therefore, external factors, such as sports ownership structures, can act as motivations or as disincentives for Gulf states to invest in sports in certain countries.

Gulf States Hosting International Sporting Events

The Gulf countries have increasingly invested in various spectator sports that require major organization and arrangements. Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and the Saudi joint bid with Egypt and Greece for the 2030 World Cup, focused international attention on the growing role of Gulf states as hosts of major international sporting events. Since 2005, Qatar has become host to such large-scale sports events with unprecedented frequency compared to other countries in the history of modern sport,[30] hosting around 500 international sporting events.[31] The UAE, for its part, hosted the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship; the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup was played in Dubai;[32] and, in 2019, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was hosted in Abu Dhabi, with an agreement to host UFC events for the next five years.[33]

Not only have Gulf countries become hosts for major football tournaments, but have also focused on attracting other elite spectator sports—such as golf, cycling, horse racing, and sailing—that tend to be of interest to more affluent attendees.[34] In 2004, Bahrain hosted the Formula One World Championship, becoming the first country in the Middle East to host the tournament. More recently, in January and February 2023, the UAE hosted at least four international golf tournaments: the Hero Cup (January 13–15); HSBC Golf Championship (January 19–22); Hero Dubai Desert Classic (January 26–29); and Golf Ras Al Khaimah Classic (February 2–5).

In 2016, Saudi Arabia woke up to the significance of sport, positioning it as a crucial aspect of Mohammed bin Salman’s 2030 national vision.[35] The kingdom hosted the Supercopa de España in 2018, 2019, and 2022. Since 2019, it hosted the annual European golf tour and Diriyah ePrix Formula E race, and, since 2020, hosted the annual Dakar Rally.[36] In 2018, the World Wrestling Entertainment announced a 10-year strategic partnership with the Saudi General Sports Authority, which includes hosting pay-per-view events in Saudi Arabia and holding two large-scale events in the country every year.[37] Further, the ARAMCO Saudi Ladies International golf tournament was funded by the Public Investment Fund, which also financed LIV Golf at the Centurion Club near London. With Saudi’s recent efforts to invest in national and international sports, who would have ever imagined that Cristiano Ronaldo, the football legend, would become a player in the Saudi Pro League? Despite rumors that he wants to leave Al-Nassr Club of Saudi Arabia,[38] Ronaldo represented a turning point in Saudi’s rising interest on the local context rather than just on the international stage. In the sudden and exponential Saudi openness to sports, Lionel Messi is also anticipated to join Al-Hilal club of Saudi Arabia after PSG’s season ends on June 3, 2023.[39]

Investing in National Sports Infrastructure

Alongside international sports investments, the Gulf states have significantly enhanced their national sports sectors by building sports infrastructure, attracting well-known international players and coaches to local teams, establishing monopoly over games broadcasting rights, and competing in regional and international tournaments. The Gulf states have also placed increasing emphasis on indigenous and traditional sports from the region, with camel racing and falconry as leading heritage sports sponsored and developed by state efforts. All Gulf countries have a history of camel racing competitions,[40] the largest of which, according to the Guinness World Records, was organized by the Saudi Camel Racing Federation in 2019 with 13,377 camels.[41] Similarly, various falconry competitions have been organized, such as the Fazza Championship for Falconry in UAE, which have gained tremendous popularity, leading to an increase in state funds for these tournaments.[42] Aimed at attracting younger generations to the heritage sport, the Qatari Society of Al Gannas organizes a National Day Falconry Championship competitions, consisting of the young falconer competition and the promising falconer competition.[43]

Gulf states have made concerted efforts to invest in youth and women’s participation in sports. Qatar’s Aspire Academy trains young talents in various sports and treats their sports-related injuries at the Aspetar hospital. Such Gulf investments in national sports have paid off and national teams continue to excel. The Saudi national football team’s victory over Argentina during one of the 2022 World Cup matches, led to fervent national pride, with King Salman declaring a snap public holiday to celebrate the team’s success.[44] Similarly, Qatar has scored victories in multiple tournaments, including the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, a total of five medals in the Olympics over the country’s history, and a second place in the handball World Cup in 2015,[45] proving that investment in national sports can lead to international accomplishments. Regarding greater participation of women in sports, in the 2012 London Olympic Games, a Qatari woman, Bahiya Al-Hamad, became the first Qatari female competitor at the Olympics and the bearer of her country’s flag,[46] and, in 2019, another Qatari woman, Mariam Farid, was named ambassador of her country’s bid to host the World Athletics Championships.[47] Further, Saudi Arabia launched its first women’s football league in October 2019,[48] and, in December 2022, submitted an official bid to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026.[49]

Another way in which the Gulf states attempt to build their national sports infrastructure and reflect a more positive image of themselves abroad is their orientation toward “state-funded international broadcaster coverage of sports megaevents [that] can generate a soft power effect with audiences, even when the host state […] has a poor international reputation.”[50] Qatar’s BeIN network has secured exclusive sports broadcasting contracts in the Middle East and North Africa region as well as other parts of the world to screen the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, and various other major international championships.[51] While Qatar’s dominance over sports media has led to an increase in its soft power capabilities, it has raised concerns in the region, mainly from Saudi Arabia. The BeOutQ, a hacking network that hijacked Qatari BeIN signals, began broadcasting out of the kingdom in August 2017, reflecting the sensitivity, conflict, and competition regarding monopoly over games broadcasting rights and soft power projections.

Gulf Sport Investments: Beyond Soft Power?

Soft power acquisition can also be used to explain how Gulf states approach sports. Soft power is a concept coined by Joseph Nye to explain how some states acquire influence.[52] Gulf state interest in sports investments can be explained by intra-Gulf rivalries, where competition rather than cooperation between Gulf states has been a key driver. For instance, when Saudi and the UAE capitalized on anti-Qatar media coverage, leading an aggressive campaign to strip Qatar of the FIFA World Cup during the 2017–2021 Gulf crisis,[53] Qatar’s international sports investments became a way of ensuring national security, sovereignty, economic independence, and soft power projections.[54] For Qatar, “football, with its emotive fanbase, global popularity, and capital-heavy investment opportunities, is also a key area for competing narratives around which reputations and visions of Gulf regimes are constructed in the international arena.”[55]

However, while soft power can give a Gulf state privileged access to practice international lobbying, it does not necessarily enhance a state’s reputation, especially in the face of hostile international media coverage. Sport may better be understood as a passage to practicing soft power rather than being a soft power in itself. On a national level, Gulf leaders capitalize on sports investments to enhance a state’s reputation locally and represent ways of acquiring legitimacy of achievements before its citizens. This was mostly evident in the way that Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani framed Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup as an achievement for the state, as well as for Arabs and Islam more generally, tweeting: “We fulfilled our promise at organizing an exceptional championship in an Arab country, which provided an opportunity for people in the world to explore the richness of our culture and the authenticity of our values.”[56]

A less sympathetic reading of Gulf states’ sports investments is that these countries are engaging in a form of sportswashing, a term identified by Simon Chadwick as referring to “regimes that use mega-sports events to reboot their reputations and distract audiences from their horrific human-rights records.”[57] Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup, for instance, did not succeed in changing the generally negative view of the country. With its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia was placed under international sports sanctions that affected its foreign investments, such as the British government freezing the sale of FC Chelsea, owned by Roman Abramovich, who is considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.[58] Similarly, Saudi Arabia has been accused of using sports to “upgrade its public image and distract from its recent abuses, including the infamous assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its devastating war in Yemen.”[59] The Saudi takeover of Newcastle Football Club sparked protests by the club’s fans, and the 2018 Superclásico Championship in Saudi Arabia did not divert attention away from the murder of Khashoggi.[60] In the same vein, the 2011 Grand Prix did not cover up the civil unrest in Bahrain, and various human rights organizations are still directing criticisms at Stefano Domenicali, the current CEO of Formula 1, and raising concerns over the tournament’s ongoing role in sportswashing amidst a deterioration in Bahrain’s human rights record.[61] For its part, Qatar faced fierce media attacks before and during the World Cup 2022, and at the final when Lionel Messi was adorned with the Qatari traditional bisht as he lifted the trophy.[62] Qatar has challenged accusations of sportswashing, asserting that hosting the World Cup 2022 aimed at challenging “stereotypes about Qataris, Arabs and Muslims.”[63] Thus, when sport is a mirror of politics or becomes an arena in which politics is played, it does little to uphold the unifying spirit that sports is meant to evoke. Instead, the stadium becomes a space for a clash of civilizations.[64] Thus, it is important to focus on the effect of politics on Gulf investments in sports instead of exclusively focusing on the effect of sports investments on politics.


This article has attempted to answer the question: Why are Gulf states increasingly investing in sports, especially international top-tier football clubs, and how do such investments benefit Gulf nations? By examining the rising interest in sports among Gulf states, mainly Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, this study argues that intra-Gulf competition, soft power, sportswashing, and economic diversification have all been motives of Gulf states’ investments in local and international sports. However, as this study has demonstrated, investing in sports, especially international sports, does not always guarantee profit, soft power, or a positive reputation. Soft power concerns are often used to explain Gulf investments in sports, but the effects of such power can be limited. While Gulf states’ sports investments are intended to raise the profile of these countries, their interests in sports have often been harshly criticized by fans and the international media. Despite these challenges, investing in sport has raised the international profiles of Gulf states and given them significant influence in the arena of international sports. These investments also play a key role in strengthening national prestige and national identity when a Gulf state successfully organizes a championship or achieves a sporting victory.


[1] Steve Menary, “Brand Finance Football 50 Dominated by Clubs Powered by Gulf Investment,” The National News, June 8, 2015,

[2] On sports diplomacy, see: Lincoln Allison and Terry Monnington, “Sport, Prestige and International Relations,” in The Global Politics of Sport: The Role of Global Institutions in Sport, ed. Lincoln Allison (London: Routledge, 2005), 5–23; Stuart Murray, Sports Diplomacy: Origins, Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 2018); Kambiz Abdi et al., “Converting Sports Diplomacy to Diplomatic Outcomes: Introducing a Sports Diplomacy Model,” International Area Studies Review 21, no. 4 (2018): 365–381; Kambiz Abdi et al., “Identifying Sports Diplomacy Resources as Soft Power Tools,” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 15, no. 3 (2019): 147–155; Yoav Dubinsky, “From Soft Power to Sports Diplomacy: A Theoretical and Conceptual Discussion,” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 15, no. 3 (2019): 156–164.

[3] David Black and Byron Peacock, “Sport and Diplomacy,” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, eds. Andrew F. Cooper, Jorge Heine, and Ramesh Thakur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 537.

[4] Allen Guttmann, “The ‘Nazi Olympics’ and the American Boycott Controversy,” in Sport and International Politics: The Impact of Fascism and Communism on Sport, eds. Pierre Arnaud and Jim Riordan (London: Routledge, 1998), 31–50.

[5] John Horne, “The Contemporary Politics of Sport Mega-Events,” in Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics, eds. Alan Bairner, John Kelly, and Jung Woo Lee (London: Routledge, 2016), 89–103; John Horne and Garry Whannel, Understanding the Olympics (London: Routledge, 2016).

[6] Holger Preuss, ed., The Impact and Evaluation of Major Sporting Events (London: Routledge, 2007).

[7] Jennifer Hargreaves, Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity (London: Routledge, 2000).

[8] Horne and Whannel, Understanding the Olympics.

[9] Pierre Arnaud and Jim Riordan, eds., Sport and International Politics: The Impact of Fascism and Communism on Sport (London: Routledge, 1998).

[10] David R. Black and Shona Bezanson, “The Olympic Games, Human Rights and Democratisation: Lessons from Seoul and Implications for Beijing,” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 7 (2004): 1245–1261.

[11] Martyn Ziegler, “Dodgy Practices, Politics and an ‘Arms Deal’: Sepp Blatter Lifts the Lid on Qatar’s World Cup Bid,” The Times, November 9, 2022,

[12] David Hassan, “Sport and Politics in a Complex Age,” Sport in Society 21, no. 5 (2018): 736–737.

[13] David Alaminos, Ignacio Esteban, and Manuel A. Fernández-Gámez, “Financial Performance Analysis in European Football Clubs,” Entropy 22, no. 9 (2020): 1056.

[14] Rachel Makinson, “Should You Invest in a Football Club?” Finance Monthly, May 9, 2022,

[15] Thomas Carter, “Interrogating Athletic Urbanism: On Examining the Politics of the City Underpinning the Production of the Spectacle,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 46, no. 2 (2011): 131–139; Brian Chalkley and Stephen Essex, “Urban Development through Hosting International Events: A History of the Olympic Games,” Planning Perspectives 14, no. 4 (1999): 369–394; Scarlett Cornelissen, “Scripting the Nation: Sport, Mega-Events, Foreign Policy and State-Building in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” Sport in Society 11, no. 4 (2008): 481–493; Scarlett Cornelissen, “The Geopolitics of Global Aspiration: Sport Mega-Events and Emerging Powers,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 27, no. 16–18 (2010): 3008–3025; Christopher Thomas Gaffney, Temples of the Earthbound Gods: Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2008); Natalie Koch, “Sports and the City,” Geography Compass 12, no. 3 (2018); Jung Woo Lee, “Competing Visions for Urban Space in Seoul: Understanding the Demolition of Korea’s Dongdaemun Baseball Stadium,” in Critical Geographies of Sport: Space, Power and Sport in Global Perspective, ed. Natalie Koch (New York: Routledge, 2017), 142–156; Harry H. Hiller, “Mega-Events, Urban Boosterism and Growth Strategies: An Analysis of the Objectives and Legitimations of the Cape Town 2004 Olympic Bid,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24, no. 2 (2000): 449–458; John Horne, “Architects, Stadia and Sport Spectacles: Notes on the Role of Architects in the Building of Sport Stadia and Making of World-Class Cities,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 46, no. 2 (2011): 205–227; John Lauermann, “Politics as Early as Possible: Democratising Olympics by Contesting Olympic Bids,” in Protest and Resistance in the Tourist City, eds. Claire Colomb and Johannes Novy (New York: Routledge, 2016), 210–226; John Lauermann, “Temporary Projects, Durable Outcomes: Urban Development Through Failed Olympic Bids?” Urban Studies 53, no. 9 (2016): 1885–1901; Wolfgang Maennig and Stan du Plessis, “Sport Stadia, Sporting Events and Urban Development: International Experience and the Ambitions of Durban,” Urban Forum 20, no. 1 (2009): 61–76; Xuefei Ren, “Olympic Beijing: Reflections on Urban Space and Global Connectivity,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 26, no. 8 (2009): 1011–1039.

[16] James Walvin, The People’s Game (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1994), 19.

[17] Kevin D. Tennent and Alex Gillett, “A Brief History of the FIFA World Cup as a Business,” in The Business of the FIFA World Cup, eds. Kevin D. Tennent and Alex Gillett (London: Routledge, 2022), 7.

[18] Abdullah Al-Arian, “Qatar World Cup: Football, Neoliberalism and Revolution in the Middle East,” Middle East Eye, November 11, 2022,

[19] Mahfoud Amara, “The Business of Sport in the Arabian Peninsula,” in Sport, Politics and Society in the Arab World, eds. Stephen Wagg and David Andrews (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 96.

[20] Mahfoud Amara and Eleni Theodoraki, “Transnational Network Formation Through Sports Related Regional Development Projects in the Arabian Peninsula,” International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 2, no. 2 (2010): 135–158.

[21] Simeon Kerr and Philip Stafford, “Abu Dhabi Investors Buy Manchester City,” Financial Times, September 2, 2008,

[22] Victor Olivereau, “Investing in Sport: A Comparison of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia,” in Routledge Handbook of Sport in the Middle East, eds. Danyel Reiche and Paul Michael Brannagan (Abindgon: Routledge, 2022), 302–303.

[23] Amara, “The Business of Sport in the Arabian Peninsula,” 100.

[24] Olivereau, “Investing in Sport,” 298–299.

[25] Olivereau, “Investing in Sport,” 299.

[26] Miguel Delaney, “Is Qatar Really Buying Manchester United?” Independent, February 17, 2023,

[27] Hafsa Adil, “Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim Submits Final Bid for Manchester United,” Al Jazeera, April 29, 2023,

[28] Sourav, “Why Bundesliga Clubs Cannot Seek Foreign Takeovers?” Khelnow, April 28, 2020,

[29] Ali Reda and Philip Proudfoot, “‘Levelling Up’ is Encouraging Gulf States to Buy Northern Football Clubs,” Novara Media, November 16, 2022,

[30] Conor Kilgallen, “Developing Elite Sporting Talent in Qatar: The Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence,” in Sport Management in the Middle East: A Case Study Analysis, eds. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Sean O’Connor, and David Hassan (London: Routledge, 2013), 173–192.

[31] State of Qatar, Government Communications Office, “Sport in Qatar,”

[32] Amara, “The Business of Sport in the Arabian Peninsula,” 102.

[33] Neil Halligan, “Abu Dhabi Signs Five-Year Deal to Host UFC Title Fights,” Arabian Business, April 29, 2019,

[34] Mahfoud Amara, Sport, Politics and Society in the Arab World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Amara and Theodoraki, “Transnational Network Formation through Sports Related Regional Development Projects in the Arabian Peninsula,” 135–158; Michaël Attali, “The 2006 Asian Games: Self-Affirmation and Soft Power,” Leisure Studies 35, no. 4 (2016): 470–486; Paul Michael Brannagan and Richard Giulianotti, “Soft Power and Soft Disempowerment: Qatar, Global Sport and Football’s 2022 World Cup Finals,” Leisure Studies 34, no. 6 (2015): 703–719; Katrin Bromber, “The Sporting Way: Sport as Branding Strategy in the Gulf States,” in Under Construction: Logics of Urbanism in the Gulf Region, eds. Steffen Wippel, Katrin Bromber, and Birgit Krawietz (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014), 119–130; Katrin Bromber and Birgit Krawietz, “The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain as a Modern Sports Hub,” in Sport Across Asia: Politics, Cultures, and Identities, eds. Katrin Bromber, Birgit Krawietz, and Joseph Maguire (New York: Routledge, 2013), 189–211; Nadine Scharfenort, “Off and Running: Qatar Brands for FIFA World Cup, and Life Beyond,” in Under Construction: Logics of Urbanism in the Gulf Region, eds. Steffen Wippel, Katrin Bromber, and Birgit Krawietz (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014), 71–87.

[35] See, for example, Government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Vision 2030, 2023,

[36] Olivereau, “Investing in Sport,” 304–305.

[37] Joseph Currier, “WWE Announces ‘Expanded’ Partnership with Saudi Arabia,” f4wonline, November 4, 2019,

[38] Sam May, “Cristiano Ronaldo ‘Wants to Quit Al-Nassr Already’ with Georgina Rodriguez ‘Desperate’ for Madrid Return,” Talk Sport, May 3, 2023,

[39] “Is Messi Leaving PSG for Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal?” Al Jazeera, May 10, 2023,

[40] “The Camel Racing Organizing Committee,” Camel Racing Committee,

[41] “Largest Camel Racing Tournament,” Guinness World Records,

[42] Government of Dubai, “Fazza Championship for Falconry,” Hamad bin Mohammed Heritage Center, 2021,

[43] “Qatar National Day 2021 Falconry Championship,” Organizing Committee for National Day Celebrations,

[44] “Saudi Arabia Declares Public Holiday after Shock Argentina Win,” Al Jazeera, November 22, 2022,

[45] Olivereau, “Investing in Sport,” 300.

[46] “First Female Competitors at the Olympics by Country (214),” Olympedia, 2023,

[47] Olivereau, “Investing in Sport,” 299–300.

[48] Unnati Naidu, “Saudi Arabia: First Women’s Football League from Fan’s Perspective,” Her Football Hub, January 3, 2022,

[49] Jennifer Bell, “Saudi Arabia Submits Official Bid for AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026,” Al Arabiya English, December 2, 2022,

[50] Rhys Crilley et al., “‘Russia isn’t a Country of Putins!’: How RT Bridged the Credibility Gap in Russian Public Diplomacy During the 2018 FIFA World Cup,” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 24, no. 1 (2022): 136.

[51] “beIN SPORTS Secures Rights to Broadcast the AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar™,” beIN Sports, March 21, 2022,

[52] Joseph S. Nye Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004); Attali, “The 2006 Asian Games”; David Black, “Dreaming Big: The Pursuit of ‘Second Order’ Games as a Strategic Response to Globalisation,” Sport in Society 11, no. 4 (2008): 467–480; David Black and Janis Van Der Westhuizen, “The Allure of Global Games for ‘Semi-Peripheral’ Polities and Spaces: A Research Agenda,” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 7 (2004): 1195–1214; Brannagan and Giulianotti, “Soft Power and Soft Disempowerment”; John Connell, “Fiji, Rugby and the Geopolitics of Soft Power: Shaping National and International Identity,” New Zealand Geographer 74, no. 2 (2018): 92–100; Christopher J. Finlay and Xin Xin, “Public Diplomacy Games: A Comparative Study of American and Japanese Responses to the Interplay of Nationalism, Ideology and Chinese Soft Power Strategies Around the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” Sport in Society 13, no. 5 (2010): 876–900; Richard Giulianotti, “The Beijing 2008 Olympics: Examining the Interrelations of China, Globalisation, and Soft Power,” European Review 23, no. 2 (2015): 286–296; Vitalii Aleksandrovich Gorokhov, “Forward Russia! Sports Mega-events as a Venue for Building National Identity,” Nationalities Papers 43, no. 2 (2015): 267–282; Jonathan Grix and Barrie Houlihan, “Sports Mega-Events as Part of a Nation’s Soft Power Strategy: The Cases of Germany (2006) and the UK (2012),” The British Journal of Politics & International Relations 16, no. 4 (2014): 572–596; Jonathan Grix and Donna Lee, “Soft Power, Sports Mega-Events and Emerging States: The Lure of the Politics of Attraction,” Global Society 27, no. 4 (2013): 521–536; Wolfram Manzenreiter, “The Beijing Games in the Western Imagination of China: The Weak Power of Soft Power,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 34, no. 1 (2010): 29–48.

[53] “Exposed: Aggressive UAE-Led Campaign to Strip Qatar of FIFA World Cup,” Middle East Monitor, February 4, 2019,

[54] Ihab Maharmeh, “The Strategy of Qatar in the Sports Sectors during the Gulf Crisis of 2017,” in Crisis Management between Theory and Practice: Qatar’s Strategic Response to the Blockade Crisis, eds. Hind al-Muftah, Hamid Ali, and Moosa Elayah Aleafry (Doha and Beirut: Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 2022), 380.

[55] See the article by Marc Owen Jones in this volume.

[56] Tamim bin Hamad, Twitter, December 18, 2022,

[57] Simon Chadwick, “Sport-Washing, Soft Power and Scrubbing the Stains,” Policy Forum, August 24, 2018,

[58] “Chelsea Faces Restrictions as Owner Abramovich Sanctioned,” Al Jazeera, March 10, 2022,

[59] Karim Zidan, “Saudi Arabia Expands its Sportswashing Ambitions to the World of Gaming,” The Guardian, March 21, 2022,

[60] Damian Spellman, “Newcastle Fans Group to Stage Protest Against Club’s Saudi Owners,” Independent, November 9, 2022,

[61] “F1’s Sportswashing ahead of Bahrain Grand Prix,” Campaign Against Arms Trade, March 2, 2023, For more on how Formula 1 grasped the international community’s attention to Bahraini grievances, see: Yara Bayoumy, “Motor Race Draws World Gaze to Bahrain, Arab Spring’s Forgotten Corner,” Reuters, April 15, 2013,; Farishta Saeed, “Thousands of Bahrainis March for Democracy ahead of F1 Race,” Reuters, April 4, 2014,

[62] See for example: Michael Rudling, “Selfish Moment Qatar World Cup Hosts Force Lionel Messi to Cover up his Iconic No.10 Shirt with an Arabic Robe for Trophy Presentation: ‘It’s a Moment for the Players, not the Host’,” Mail Online, December 18, 2022,; “Mixed Reaction as Lionel Messi Draped in Arab Cloak before Lifting World Cup,” The Guardian, December 18, 2022,

[63] Vivian Nereim, “Qataris Bristle at What They See as Double Standards Over Their World Cup,” The New York Times, November 25, 2022,

[64] Aicha Elbasri and Saja Torman, “The European Media Campaign against the Qatar World Cup: Under Scrutiny,” Policy Analysis, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, November 8, 2022,