The Geopolitics of Gulf Sport Sponsorship

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20 Scopus citations


The names of two major Gulf airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates, have saturated the European football scene for many years, sponsoring some of the most prominent European teams and FIFA itself. These state-backed airlines are also active in motorsports, rugby, cycling, tennis, golf, cricket, and equestrian sport, while several prominent Gulf elites and royal family members have recently taken over major sports franchises in Europe and elsewhere. How should we understand these far-reaching sponsorship agendas in the Gulf? What can they tell us about the politics and ethics of international sport on the Arabian Peninsula? Moving beyond the general readings of Gulf sport sponsorship as an exercise in ‘soft power,’ this article shows how these deals are strategic nodes for diverse actors in the Gulf and in the international sporting community to advance various interests: personal, political, financial, and otherwise. Informed by a critical geopolitics lens that questions the coherence of the ‘state’ as an actor, I ask what it means to say that ‘the Gulf’ sponsors sport, and more specifically investigate the relevant actors behind these sponsorship deals. To do so, this article examines regional and global political economy through a focus on three Gulf airline sponsors, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, and three elite sports sponsors—the UAE’s Sheik Mansour, Qatar’s Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaïfi, and Sheikh Nasser of Bahrain. By decentering ‘soft power’ approaches to sport that unduly emphasize the ‘state’ as an actor, this article suggests a more grounded approach to the geopolitics of sport in the Arabian Peninsula, which simultaneously acknowledges the complicity of Western actors and institutions in the rise of Gulf sports sponsorship deals in the past decade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-376
Number of pages22
JournalSport, Ethics and Philosophy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2 2020


  • Arabian Peninsula
  • Sports geography
  • critical geopolitics
  • political geography
  • soft power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Philosophy


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