In the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai is best known for its spectacular urban development. Yet boosters in the neighboring cities of Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Manama have also used spectacular urbanism – and all have focused heavily on sports. From impressive new Formula One tracks in the UAE and Bahrain, to Qatar’s cutting-edge football stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Gulf leaders have invested heavily in defining their cities as hubs for global sport over the past 10 years. Why is this? What geopolitical, financial, and institutional configurations make these urban transformations possible? And what can the sports-oriented boosterism in the Arabian Peninsula teach us about the shifting networks and materialities of power in today’s illiberal world – and the actors that bring them to life?
Natalie Koch is Associate Professor and O’Hanley Faculty Scholar in the Department of Geography at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She is a political geographer focused on geopolitics, nationalism, and authoritarianism in the post-Soviet space and the Arabian Peninsula. Dr. Koch explores alternative sites of geopolitical analysis such as sport, spectacle, urban planning, and other ostensibly positive expressions of authoritarian state power. She has written extensively on the geopolitics of sport, including articles in Political Geography, Sport in Society, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, and Eurasian Geography and Economics. She is the editor of the book, Critical geographies of sport: Space, power, and sport in global perspective (Routledge, 2017) and author of The geopolitics of spectacle: Space, synecdoche, and the new capitals of Asia (Cornell University Press, 2018).