The Fifa men’s World Cup 2022 in Qatar is arguably the most political in history.
Even during the seemingly innocent performance of South Korean pop star Jung Kook at the tournament’s opening ceremony, geopolitics were center stage. For Kook, 25, is not just a good looking young man with a global fan base and a multi-million dollar fortune. In addition, he has a lucrative endorsement deal with the South Korean car maker Hyundai-Kia, which also happens to be a major Fifa sponsor.
This kind of relationship is neither an accident nor a simple business arrangement. For years, the South Korean government has been pursuing a strategy aimed at building and projecting “soft power”, developing its engagement with target audiences around the world. This has happened not just through football, music and cars, but also through Oscar winning films like Parasite and the massively popular TV series Squid Games.
And it’s not just South Korea taking advantage of the audiences that Fifa can provide. For while sellers of soft drinks and burgers are still part of the sponsorship roster, Fifa’s key partners are increasingly big corporations from countries keen to benefit from the global reach of football.
State-owned Qatar Airways for example, is busy selling plane tickets as Fifa’s official airline partner, but also plays a pivotal role in attempts by the Qatari government to establish Hamad International Airport as a major hub of global travel.
The award winning airline is an effective instrument of soft power, transmitting signals to global