This year is bookended by two high-profile and highly controversial megasports events: the Beijing Olympics, happening now, and the FIFA Men’s World Cup, to be held in Qatar in November and December. But while commentators often lump these two events together as depressing examples of how megasports events are all too often hosted by corrupt regimes with appalling human rights records, in fact they are quite different. As I argued in my last post, the Beijing Winter Games represents the end of an era—the last Olympics to be awarded before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insisted on human rights and anticorruption clauses in its contracts with host countries. But Qatar marks a transition to something entirely new, and much more encouraging.
You wouldn’t know that from most of the Western/Northern commentary on Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, which portrays this as yet another example of megasport abuse. That mischaracterization smacks of what Edward Said called “orientalism”: the tendency of the West/North to dismiss Eastern, and particularly Islamic, perspectives and experiences with an arrogance or hypocrisy that serves to reproduce neocolonial patterns of privilege and domination. Continue reading