Faculty explore World Cup effects on the region in their research

December 14, 2022
As Qatar hosts of the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and Arab World, scholars from Northwestern University in Qatar are engaged in research projects examining the social, cultural, and innovational effects of the tournament in the region.
Professors Craig LaMay, Susan Dun, and S. Venus Jin are among the Northwestern Qatar faculty leading these research projects. Working on the sidelines of the tournament, they are examining the broader relationship between politics and sports media piracy in the region, Qatar’s use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology to promote its tournament, as well as the sentiment of the media coverage of Qatar in the years since it has been named host of the World Cup.
LaMay, professor in residence and director of the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program, along with 12 international scholars, is the co-author of Football in the Middle East: State, Society, and the Beautiful Game, a newly published book exploring how football is affecting people, societies and governments across the region. In his chapter, LaMay examined the influence of paid TV and football broadcast rights in the Middle East and its linkages to the blockade on Qatar and broader regional, political, and socioeconomic processes.
“The 2017 Gulf rift led to one of the greatest incidents of sports piracy ever, with BeoutQ, [a pirate pay television broadcaster that operated in Saudi Arabia], stealing over thousands of different channels from Qatar’s beIN Sports, including everything from the big ten channels in the U.S. to Sky, ESPN, and British Telecom,” noted LaMay. “So, it was a regional conflict between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but it affected the whole world of sports broadcasting, and what was a fight between the Qataris and the Saudis had much wider implications.”
“Experiential media technologies and virtual reality have transformed the ways public relations professionals tell stories about mega sporting events”
- Venus Jin, professor in residence and director of the Communication Program
In a comparative study published in the Journal for Sports and Tourism, Jin, professor in residence and director of the Communication Program, analyzed the ways VR content has been used as a tool by Russia and Qatar to promote their stadium designs, facilities, and cultures in the build-up to their FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022.
According to Jin, co-author of Leveraging virtual reality (VR) for sports public relations and sports journalism, “experiential media technologies and virtual reality have transformed the ways public relations professionals tell stories about mega sporting events.” But considering the novelty of such tools, she said, “limited studies have focused on how and the extent to which PR and sports journalistic content productions use VR technologies.”
In a different light, Dun, associate professor in residence, is focusing her research projects on assessing the impact of the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Qatar as the host nation. One study she led with Northwestern Qatar alum Hatim Rachdi assessed more than four million posts about Qatar on Twitter to further explore whether the country’s nation-branding attempts are reflected in public perceptions.
“As the world’s most popular sports event, the FIFA World Cup has the possibility to enhance host nations’ images internationally, but we were not aware of empirical work attempting to assess public perceptions of Qatar, despite the considerable attention it has been paid,” said Dun. “What we found was that, contrary to the expectations of the organizers in Qatar, host nation status has not necessarily brought better nation branding or enhanced soft power, especially in the Global North.”
Research and creative scholarship are among the many ways Northwestern Qatar community members are engaged with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Students and alumni are helping make the tournament a success for the teams and the fans as they complete internships in beIN Sports, CNN, FIFA, FOX Sports, and some of the world’s largest media and sports organizations.