State leaders in the Arabian Peninsula have increasingly sought to host globalized sporting events to broadcast a cosmopolitan and modern image of the region. These efforts are typically interpreted as examples of states exercising ‘soft power’. This article challenges the state-centric assumptions built into the soft power approach by employing an event ethnography of the 2016 UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Doha. Advancing a more grounded geopolitics of elite sport in the Gulf, I examine how geopolitical identity narratives about Qatar, and the Gulf region more broadly, circulate at various scales and through countless contingent encounters at the event. I ask specifically how these identity narratives are constructed and challenged, both materially and discursively by athletes, spectators and urban residents. Sporting events, I argue, are key sites of geopolitical encounter: where subjects and spaces are not predetermined, but actively constituted through people’s interactions in the host cities and countries.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies