The sport that hundreds of millions of people are so passionate about mobilizes political and economic forces. No doubt it deserves a more transparent, clean and effective governance structure. However, these efforts will not take place on neutral ground, but in the midst of fierce competition for power and international influence.
In a series of peculiar events that can only be contextually placed in the reality of the 21st century, football, war, and diplomacy meet and intertwine. Today, Russia and the U.S take one more step in their very own modern adaptation of the Cold War in the curious battlefield of international soccer.
A promise by Qatari labour and social affairs minister Abdullah Saleh Mubarak al-Khulaifi to reform the Gulf state's controversial kafala or labour sponsorship system by the end of this year is likely to cut little ice with human rights and trade union activists who four years after Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup are demanding deeds rather than words.
A warning by world soccer body FIFA president Sepp Blatter following talks this weekend with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani that Qatar needs to do more to improve the working and living conditions of its migrant workers is the latest signal that Qatar will have to take substantive steps to fend off attempts to deprive it of its 2022 World Cup hosting rights.
Sports is a cultural public diplomacy tool for Qatar to embed and endear itself at multiple layers of the international community. To achieve that however, it has to be seen as a forward looking 21st century state rather than a wealthy energy producer that adheres to no longer acceptable concepts of human and labour relations.