The Cymru men’s football team are only a few short weeks away from kicking off their opening group match of their first World Cup campaign in 64 years. Rob Page and his team will have the hopes and dreams of a nation behind them, as well as the eyes of a projected global audience of 5 billion.
Given the scale of the estimated audience, the Minister for Economy has said that the World Cup is the most significant marketing and sports diplomacy opportunity ever presented to Wales, offering “a platform to take Wales to the world”. But how does the Welsh Government plan on capitalising on this occasion to promote Wales globally?
The power of sports in international relations
Sports diplomacy is a term which describes the use of sport as a diplomatic tool which countries use to promote their values and enhance their influence globally. It can bring about several economic benefits by making a country an attractive place to invest or study in, as well as trade with and visit.
The Welsh Government is already engaging in sports diplomacy and a 2018 report from the British Council said that sport was a particular strength for Wales internationally where its successes have boosted its international standing and reputation. An important facet of the Welsh Government’s international strategy is to raise Wales’ profile by utilising the platform of major sporting events. For example, in 2019 the First Minister led one of Wales’ biggest ever trade missions to Japan which took place alongside the Rugby World Cup.
Some academics have argued that Wales should join a growing list of countries around the world with specific sports diplomacy strategies as part of wider international relations campaigns.
What is the Welsh Government doing to promote Wales at the World Cup?
The Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething is the lead Minister responsible for coordinating the Government’s programme of activities for the World Cup. The Government’s core objectives include:
- the promotion of Wales;
- projecting our values;
- ensuring the safety of Welsh citizens at the event; and
- securing a positive and lasting legacy.
The Minister announced details of the programme of activities surrounding the World Cup in September. He outlined a number of actions the Government is taking on its own or alongside partner organisations. The programme is focused on four core strands:
- An ‘enhanced marketing campaign’ with a budget of £2.5m which includes a focus on targeting markets in Wales, USA, UK (mainly England) and some activities in Qatar. The campaign will also deliver activities with fans, partners and diaspora.
- A World Cup Partner Support Fund that aims to add value to a small number of projects that can deliver against the Government’s core objectives. The Government launched the application process in August to which 19 organisations were successful, receiving a total of £1.8m between them. Some of the successful applications included the FAW (£500,000), Arts Council Wales/Y Wal Goch (£100,000), Urdd Gobaith Cymru (£77,783), and the Barry Horns (£17,032).
- The First Minister, Minister for Economy, and Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport will attend a range of events as part of a programme of Ministerial visits and engagements, which includes attending Wales’ group stage matches against England and the USA.
- Engagement through Welsh Government overseas offices to maximise the promotion of Wales and engage with key international stakeholders, particularly in Qatar, Dubai, the US and Europe. For example, the Government plans on holding events in several US cities including Washington, New York, Chicago and LA.
Concerns about Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of LGBTQ+ people
Qatar will be the first Middle Eastern country to host the men’s football World Cup. However several politicians, national teams and civil society groups have expressed deep concerns about Qatar’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people, and migrant workers involved in the building of the tournament’s infrastructure.
A number of national teams competing at the World Cup have taken direct action in protest. For example, Denmark will wear ‘toned down’ shirts to protest against Qatar’s human rights record and the Australian team released a video statement criticising Qatar for its treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people.
Wales and England have also joined other European countries in support of the OneLove armband campaign as a sign of support against discrimination. The Cymru manager, Rob Page said that the Cymru captain will wear it regardless of any FIFA sanctions that may be imposed.
The UK Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer said that he will be boycotting the World Cup due to Qatar’s human rights record. However, both the Welsh Government and UK Government have rejected a boycott, though the Welsh Government has said that it will no longer attend the group match against Iran due to recent protests in the country. The Welsh Government said that “engaging with countries provides an opportunity to develop a platform for further discussion, to raise awareness and to potentially influence a change in approach.”
Securing a lasting legacy?
The Welsh Government wants to “secure a lasting legacy” from Wales’ participation at the World Cup, including to “advance physical activity and sporting participation to support the health and wellbeing” of the nation.
A Senedd Committee recently published a report on participation in sport and physical activity in disadvantaged areas. It called for a new national approach and increased funding to address inequality gaps in sports participation which grew during the pandemic and are being compounded by rising costs of living. The Welsh Government rejected these recommendations. With no increase in funding for Sports Wales or significant change in policy, the Government’s aims of increasing participation in sport as part of the World Cup’s legacy - particularly in disadvantaged areas - may prove challenging.
Article by Rhun Davies, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament