Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held a meeting with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani who pledged to invest $15 billion into Turkey’s economy in the wake of Washington’s economic war on Turkey which has seen the Lira’s exchange rate plummet. Apart from Turkey’s sustained economic growth rates and a low Lira making Turkey attractive to investors looking for a sizeable long-term return, there are also more fundamental geopolitical reasons behind Qatar’s investment.
When Saudi Arabia led the 2017 economic/diplomatic boycott of Qatar, Turkey was the first country to openly take Doha’s side in the dispute. Turkey sent troops to the small peninsular state as an insurance policy against various Saudi military threats which sporadically continue to this day. In this sense, Qatar’s investment in Turkey also serves as an extension of this vital geopolitical insurance policy. While multiple US troops are also stationed in Qatar, unlike the Turkish troops, there is widespread speculation that in the event of an attempt Saudi invasion of Qatar, the US troops might well stand down and thus passively facilitate a Saudi led regime change in Qatar.
There is however another area where Turkey and Qatar can cooperate on a deeply meaningful win-win model. Qatar looks set to host the 2022 football World Cup but thus far preparations for the tournament have come under heavy scrutiny. A combination of facilities whose completion date remains illusive to questions regarding the small nation’s ability to host multiple guests from around the world and the moving of the tournament from its traditional summer date to winter have all led many to openly ask whether Qatar was the proper choice.
Unlike Qatar, Turkey has a long standing popular football (soccer) culture. Football remains a favourite sport among young Turks while the country’s Mediterranean climate means that the sport can be played to a professional standard at any time of the year. Likewise, Turkey has plenty of professional football stadiums throughout its major cities that would require comparatively minimal modifications to become World Cup ready.
The elegant solution to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup controversies would be for Turkey to lessen the burden on Qatar and Qatar’s critics by offering to jointly host the 2022 World Cup just as in 2002 Japan and Korea jointly hosted the tournament while in 2026 the World Cup venues will be split three ways between Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Russia’s recently concluded World Cup has set the bar high not only in terms of knife-edge football but in terms of providing a spacious, safe, entertaining, well organised and efficient environment for fans. With the consensus around world football being that Qatar is not in a position to equal let alone better Russia’s efforts for a variety of factors, a joint Turko-Qatari World Cup could be the answer. This would allow Doha to concentrate on better preparing to host a smaller number of football matches while Turkey with its preexisting football infrastructure including Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul could welcome fans to other matches in a city that is a major international tourist destination in any case.
Taking another cue from Russia’s experience, the 2018 World Cup allowed Russia not only to stage an objectively successful tournament but allowed Russia to counter the racist propaganda about the country deriving from parts of North American and Europe. Therefore, those with negative preconceived notions about Russia, its culture and its ability to provide a safe and user friendly atmosphere for tourists came back satisfied that modern Russia was more than up to those tasks.
With the United States now waging economic warfare on Turkey and with many in western and central Europe adopting Turkophobic sentiments of their own, as 2022 World Cup in Turkey would allow the country to show that not only does the Turkey remain a top international tourist destination but that there is much more to Turkey than beautiful scenery and ancient sites of cultural importance.
The recent promised investment from Qatar into Turkey will strengthen an already close relationship. While Qatar has rejected all calls to withdraw from hosting the World Cup as could be expected from any proud nation, the problems surrounding its World Cup bid do exist. Therefore, a win-win model for a jointly hosted World Cup could allow Qatar to re-focus on a smaller but more successful set of matches in Doha while Turkey could help host other matches and in so doing provide a showcase of what modern Turkish tourism has to offer without challenging the Wold Cup status of its smaller Qatari partner. Neither side has anything to lose by taking these steps. It could be a win-win not only for sport but for diplomacy.