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The Geopolitics of Sport and Diplomacy of Neighborhood Relations in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (Case study: Iran and the Persian Gulf Arab States)

Authors: Seyed Mohammad Taghi Raeissadat,  Afshin Mottaghi,  Seyed Nasrollah Sajjadi, and  Hossein Rabiei

Affiliation: PhD in Political Geography, Kharazmi University –Tehran, – Associate Professor of Political Geography, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Professor of Sport Management, University of Tehran, and Assistant Professor of Political Geography, Kharazmi University, Tehran 

Organization/Publisher: International Quarterly of Geopolitics

Date/Place: Winter 2022/ Tehran-Iran

Type of Literature: Journal Article  

Number of Pages: 19


Keywords: Geopolitics of Sport, Diplomacy, the 2022 World Cup, Iran, the Persian Gulf Arab States


This study examines the use of sports as a tool for geopolitical influence, particularly in relation to national status. The research identifies contiguous political borders as the most common place where this influence can be observed. To analyze the geopolitical aspect of sports, the Persian/Arab Gulf was selected as a study sample, specifically the Qatar World Cup 2022. The Persian/Arab Gulf region is one of the most strategically sensitive regions due to its abundant energy resources, which creates intense political competition. This competition often manifests itself in sports, highlighting the relationship between politics and sports, also known as the geopolitics of sports.

The primary focus of the study is to investigate how sports impact the relationship between competing countries and how sports play a critical role in boosting national self-confidence. Additionally, the research explores how this interaction between politics and sports occurs at regional and international levels. The study cites several examples of this influence, including the political victory of the Nazis during the Berlin Olympics in 1936, ping-pong diplomacy between China and the United States of America in the 1970s, sanctions against the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 by the Eastern and Western blocs, Argentina’s victory over England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and the Iranian team’s defeat of the Iraqi team in the Friendship Cup in Kuwait in 1989. These instances demonstrate how political and historical rivalries between countries play out in the “popular spaces” of stadiums.

The methodology of this article is descriptive and analytical, relying on newspapers, articles, and magazines as sources. The study is divided into two parts: a theoretical and conceptual section that explains the fields of geopolitics and mathematics, followed by a section that applies these concepts and theories to models to derive the foundations and results.

The research draws from several important literary works, including:

  1. Politics and Sports: This article defines politics as the peaceful or hostile leadership of relations among people, groups, and social parties within a state and across governments on an international scale. Sports, on the other hand, are identified as a space for competition between different nations, ethnicities, and cultures within a unified framework and without significant tensions, such as the Olympic Games. However, in many cases, sports competitions include political intersections where countries leverage these events in various ways. Politicians sometimes turn athletes and games into arenas for political aspects, as seen in examples like Argentina’s match against England in the 1986 World Cup, which had a political taste in the form of revenge due to the Falkland Islands, or Algeria and France meeting with a taste of resistance, or England’s victory over Germany. These instances demonstrate how sports can become a substitute for politics.
  2. Neighborhood Relations and Sports: The nation is the basic unit of analysis in this complex system. It is defined as a country or a geographical identity with recognized international borders. The effectiveness of these borders depends on the extent to which they provide the state with the ability to exist with an independent identity from others. However, the problem of neighborly relations arises when a country tries to maintain its privacy on the one hand, while on the other hand, it may isolate itself from the rest of the neighboring political entities.


The article provides several examples to illustrate its points. The first example is Ping Pong Diplomacy. In 1971, 15 American table tennis players traveled to China to participate in a tournament. Because of difficulties they encountered, some parties intervened to help them. Later, the Chinese team sent its players to the United States. This led to a historic visit by US President Richard Nixon to China in 1972, and the normalization of relations between the two countries. This is an example of tasks that normal diplomatic negotiations cannot accomplish. For instance, during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Japanese Emperor Takamado made an official visit to follow his country’s national team, the first such visit by a Japanese royal since 1916. The second example is Judo and Diplomacy. In 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin trained with the Russian judo team and later granted Russian citizenship to the Italian coach, Ezio Gamba, after the team won the gold medal for the first time. Putin believed that the Italian coach had contributed to the development of Russian sport and the strengthening of relations between Russia and Italy. 

The article emphasizes the role of sport geopolitics in analyzing and explaining the political changes accompanying sporting events, which is part of critical geopolitics. For instance, the article demonstrates how the 1987 military regime change in South Korea was affected by the Olympic Games in Seoul. The article also highlights the potential for sport to foster geopolitical convergence between countries, as demonstrated by a football match in Iraq that improved relations between Iran and Arab countries after four decades.


The article argues that Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup can enhance its global image by highlighting its geocultural and hegemonic power. The article also explores the political messages that can be conveyed through football and the potential for sports to facilitate political rapprochement between neighboring countries. Additionally, the article suggests that the geopolitics of sports can reveal the denial of the geopolitical legitimacy of opponents, citing Qatar’s hosting of two Israeli teams during a high school handball championship in 2018.

Overall, the article presents important ideas about the interplay between sport and geopolitics, and how sports can serve as a platform for political messages and diplomatic efforts.

By: Dr. Nabil Kahlouche, Strategic Researcher



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