At some point, the sport will be forced to rely on the UAE


“The UAE has placed sport at the center of its public diplomacy in showcasing the country to the world,” says Dr Simon Rofe, Reader in Diplomatic and International Studies at SOAS University London. “Being a venue for sporting events and sports administration gives profile and status to give legitimacy to the regime.”

All the while, just like in Russia, the sport has acted without regard to the true character of the UAE regime. The sports authorities imagined that this was an apolitical position. However, it was indeed a deeply political question: to voluntarily embrace the UAE in the sports field was to confer legitimacy on the regime.

This has meant ignoring the gross exploitation of migrant workers under the kafala system, in which employers control the presence of migrant workers in the country. This meant ignoring the oppression of women in the country and the criminalization of homosexuality.

This has meant ignoring the UAE’s relentless oppression of Emirati dissidents and their families. And that has meant ignoring the UAE’s role in the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen, which has killed thousands of innocent civilians. Prominent figures in the United Arab Emirates – including Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the brother of Sheikh Mansour, owner of Man City – have been charged with war crimes.

Sports governing bodies will rightly say that they disagree with these actions. But they certainly did not consider them important enough to sacrifice the benefits of their relationship with the UAE.

The growing attempts by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to use the sport only borrow from the UAE model. “The United Arab Emirates was using sport to burnish its reputation long before people coined the term sportswashing, despite having one of the worst human rights records in the region and its involvement in conflicts. ruinous and counter-revolutionary efforts across the region,” said Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, an organization working on sport and human rights.

Sport is finally counting on Russia. Even if he prefers to avoid it, at some point the sport will be forced to consider the UAE and its ‘vulnerabilities’ as well.


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