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The spotlight is hot

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup is a reminder that publicity is a double-edged sword; being known risks being disliked.

Attention brings hyper-focus. Before the tournament kicked off, Western media and social media carried criticisms of Qatar’s largely Sharia-based cultural values; particularly attitudes to women, LGBTQIA community, licentiousness, and immodest dress. Players, teams and supporters were urged to boycott the Cup, or demonstrate their opposition to these values.

Framed by controversial awarding of the Cup over a decade ago, everything about Qatar became fair game. There were allegations about fake supporters, intimidation of journalists, flimsy tent accommodation and a team being financially encouraged to lose their game against Qatar.

We’ve seen this pile-on before in the lead up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi (Russia) and then Beijing. The UK had a massive bout of self-criticism heading into the London Olympics.

Almost always, criticisms fall away as the tournaments start.

It’s possible that the dominance of controversy is because there is nothing else to talk about. It’s not that the issues are inconsequential – simply that their predominance at that moment is filling empty space. This is certainly true in other PR situations, such when a lack of information or action leads to speculation.

If this is accurate, one response to this controversial period would have been for FIFA and Qatar to grin and bear it and keep their heads down until the tournament started. Banning alcohol or claiming “I feel gay” were red rags to those who wanted a fight because there was nothing else to do.

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