Does Sportswashing Work? First Insights from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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Can autocrats use major sports tournaments to shift public opinion abroad? This short article conducts the first social scientific test of whether authoritarian host regimes win the desired image boost through sports mega-events. We analyze original data from a two-wave public opinion survey in Germany fielded before and right after the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. We find that among German respondents, the tournament start i) did not improve Qatar's image, but ii) increased sympathies for the Arab world, and iii) fueled criticism of the media, the quality of democracy, and the inclusion of minorities within Germany. Our findings reveal that international sports events may benefit an autocrat's entire region, while heightening polarization in foreign democracies. Together, this offers first insights into the various effects of sportswashing and autocratic image campaigns.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Politics
Pages (from-to)1-11
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Apr 2024

ID: 388371433