Geopolitical uncertainties in regional relations threaten the long-term planning efforts of major sporting events.
2018 Winter Olympics
There are currently growing concerns about the heated rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea about the impact on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As of Nov. 16, organizers say they’ve hit just 41% of their sales target of 1.06 million tickets, with sales in South Korea even weaker than those by international tourists, according to a USA Today article.
In addition to the concerns about the uncertainties surrounding the actions of North Korea, Olympics spectators are balking at the long travel times from Seoul to Pyeongchang, the lack of accommodations at the various venues, and the fact that insurance companies have been unwilling to issue cancellations in the event of a disruption by North Korea.
The prospect of a nuclear confrontation has suppressed both sales and enthusiasm for the event that is aimed at bringing the world together.
2022 World Cup
Similarly, the upcoming 2022 FIFA-sponsored event to be held in Qatar is now subject of some consternation due to the recent blockade of Qatar by five Arab countries. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Egypt and the Maldives severed all political and economic relations with Qatar on June 5, 2017. They accused the country of backing extremist groups, a charge Qatar strongly denies.
Quoting from FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the kick-off ceremony of the mini-stadium project of the Thai Football Association. President Infantino noted that “2022 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Qatar after five years, will be a very important event for the Asian continent.” “The Asian continent is very important for the FIFA, especially after the continent has presented impressive examples both at the organisational level and at the results level,” said Infantino.
But a more sinister motive appears to be behind the blockade and recent allegations towards Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (believed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to be a terrorist organization) and the popular Arab world news organization Al Jazeera. A November 9th story from the Gulf Timespublished the news of a plot to manipulate currency and bond markets to cripple the Qatar economy and steal the 2022 World Cup by the UAE.
As noted by the authors Ryan Grim and Ben Walsh of the Intercept, “Targeting a nation’s economy using financial manipulation would be a dramatic break from traditional norms of diplomacy and even warfare.”
They further note:
“One of the plan’s stated aims is forcing Qatar to share soccer’s 2022 World Cup, according to the outline. The strategy laid out in the document calls for using a public relations campaign to point the international soccer body FIFA to Qatar’s dwindling cash reserves, making a case that the small Gulf country can’t afford to build the necessary infrastructure.”
The Elixir of Sports for Easing Geopolitical Tensions
Sporting events are important for peace and can be useful touchstones for resolving regional geopolitical conflicts.
They can also reveal the worst in humanity.