Eurocentrism is bad business for the West05 January 2023
Carla Dibello :
If there is one thing the entire world might actually agree upon regarding last year's FIFA World Cup, it is that it was rife with surprises from every angle. From Saudi Arabia's win against Argentina to South Korea taking down Portugal, the unexpected was the theme of the entire event. But the biggest curveball, at least for the Western hemisphere, was the on-the-ground experience of Qatar itself.
As is well documented, Qatar faced with extreme scrutiny since preparations for the World Cup began, from the building of infrastructure to cultural customs and winning the bid to host in the first place - despite it happening more than 10 years ago in 2010. While some of the scrutiny may be understandable, as no country is perfect, it was cast from a Eurocentric perspective that upholds Western values above any others.
Qatar was the first Middle Eastern country in history to host the World Cup. And while other host countries have faced criticisms in the past, it is arguable that none were as charged or as intensely concentrated on the country or the people themselves. Many concerns voiced over Qatar as hosts were concerns that previous countries have faced as well. I am even confident that some of those loudly condemning Qatar in the past year hardly recall that the previous World Cup was hosted by Russia in just 2018.
While Western journalism was kept intentionally unconscious of its Eurocentric bias, major players within the execution of the World Cup itself were acutely aware. As FIFA President Gianni Infantino stated: "I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons."
This quote strikes me as powerful in a few ways. Not only is it a much-needed call for self-examination of one's own history, but it also presents the more philosophical question: What country is good enough to host a world sporting event?
One issue with Eurocentrism, aside from its obvious ties with racism and cultural stereotyping, is that it closes doors to opportunity. Although much of the focus was on Qatar, it is arguable that the nature of the criticism was more broadly directed at the entire Middle East. Calls for boycotts hold an underlying intention to shut the door to the Middle East as a whole. We can all remember when a similar theme occurred a few years prior with Saudi Arabia.
If we look at any country too closely, we will find similar circumstances in the not-too-distant past. And by all means, upon historical review, the majority of Europe and the West would in theory be disqualified from hosting.
As many have noted, hosting a World Cup is not necessarily a boost for the host country. The costs are high and, quite frankly, scrutiny is guaranteed. While criticisms about PR ploys ran rampant, Qatar was fully aware of the risks of hosting the games. And as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is also true that Qatar hardly needs the income from increased tourism.
But one advantage to hosting for Qatar, despite the Eurocentric backlash and upfront orientalist typecasting, was the opportunity to model by example. Hosting a global event in the Middle East is new and therefore historic. Putting Qatar in the spotlight was an opportunity to showcase so much of what the Middle East has to offer - not just in terms of amenities, but also sportsmanship, civility and hospitality.
Sentiments of a safer atmosphere due to less public drinking, coordinated security and an enthusiastic but less aggressive crowd prevailed. Travelers were also pleasantly surprised by the relatively easy access to games, due to well-organized transportation options and crowd management, not to mention unusually well-kept stadiums. The amicable nature of local Qataris was on full display and extended well beyond the stadium, taking many Western visitors by surprise.
However, it was no surprise to me. I am accustomed to being met with incredulous tones when I say time and time again that the atmosphere of the Middle East is more collaborative than the West. It is less about the individual and more about collective success. Newcomers are welcome in a way that is fully foreign in the Western Hemisphere. And after witnessing the Qatari conduct throughout the World Cup, it would be in the West's interest both culturally and businesswise to recognize this as an opportunity to grow together.
(Carla DiBello is a documentarian and founder and CEO of CDB Advisory, a bespoke consulting firm that bridges connections across private sectors throughout the Middle East and North America).