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The 2022 FIFA World Cup and Qatar’s PR juggling act

The 2022 FIFA World Cup and Qatar’s PR juggling act

“The winner to organise the 2022 FIFA World Cup is, Qatar!” These are the words declared on 2 December 2010 by Sepp Blatter that remain fresh in the memory of so many in the footballing world. They are also the words which have arguably changed a nation and how football is run forever. I will always remember the atmosphere in Aspire Park in Doha. Men, women and children, faces illuminated looking up at a giant screen. The declaration ceremony was taking place a world away in a much colder Zurich. The area erupted when ‘QATAR’ was pulled from the envelope. People shouted, screamed and some even cried with happiness. It was then that I realised that this was to be much more than just a football tournament. It was going to be a catalyst for change on a political, cultural and human level. It was going to be about sport breaking down stereotypical barriers, and a unique opportunity for Qatar to leave a lasting legacy to change perceptions about the country on a global scale.

However, no more than a few hours later, the world’s media scolded the decision and brought Qatar’s biggest ever party to an almighty halt. Allegations of corruption and bribery soon followed and even now in 2016 casualties of the decision continue to be thrust into the media spotlight with the bid now under FBI investigation. Qatar is having what we like to call in the industry, a ‘PR nightmare’.

Despite the opportunity before them, I have to agree with comments made by Nicholas McGheehan, Gulf Analyst at Human Rights Watch recently that Qatar seemed to be “catastrophically” unprepared for the scrutiny that followed this big decision. Its efforts at public relations have been poor, especially in comparison to the United Arab Emirates who have been more effective in handling the country’s image around the world.

I’m a strong advocate of giving the underdog a chance at proving themselves. But I also have to acknowledge the negative image which has been portrayed so far amidst the allegations of corruption, bribery, human rights abuses, lack of footballing history and the uncontrollable climate issue. I have been lucky enough to live in Qatar and I agree that they have a lot of work to do to combat this negative reputation and I certainly don’t condone the said allegations. But what Qatar is being denied is a chance to tell both sides of the story. Qatar has gone from a relatively anonymous backwater to strong economic and political power, becoming a key player in global affairs. Its vision and ambition has to be admired, but one has to question if Qatar being thrust into the global media spotlight was too much too soon?

Amongst the damning headlines, Qatar has also been catching the eyes of the world by means of its vast wealth. It is the richest country in the world per capita and has been involved with the purchase, investment and sponsorship of some of the world’s biggest brands including Harrods, FC Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain and The Shard. Despite rapid development and eye catching purchases, Qatar is still a developing country with a number of teething problems and in my opinion not being able to control its image has been a major issue. This has created a problem in that FIFA sponsors including Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Budweiser are facing increasing pressure from groups to pull out of sponsoring the 2022 World Cup due to the allegations. So far, a few have voiced concern, but none have pulled out. A move which could be explained by the monetary and advertising value that the World Cup can bring.

Overall, Qatar’s PR juggling act is a tough one. On one side they are trying to promote the 2022 FIFA World Cup as a great event and a unique opportunity to showcase Qatar as a country, but on the other it is trying to counter negative press around current teething problems as a developing country. It will always be remembered for being the first World Cup in the Middle East, the first World Cup to be held in the winter and also being known as one of the most controversial decisions in the history of sport. Qatar needs to work on its global image and make sure that any activity is appropriate and doesn’t open it up to further criticism. Global sporting events magnify a country’s flaws and I look forward to observing with interest how Qatar’s leaders overcome them in the years prior to 2022. The clock is ticking and solutions and demonstrable change needs to be seen. Organisers have a chance to promote Qatar for the right reasons and to deliver a memorable tournament to live up to the campaign hashtag, #ExpectAmazing.

The journey of a rugby shirt fit for a giant

The journey of a rugby shirt fit for a giant

Similar to my first two months working with Stripe, the journey of the Strathmore rugby shirt has been fast-paced, dynamic and exciting.

It’s safe to say that everyone in the office was thinking two things throughout this project: 1) when will we stop hearing about this shirt? And 2) has Ben relocated to Murrayfield Stadium? The Strathmore team spent weeks planning and navigating through the various complications of this task. But the feeling of accomplishment when it all came together was exhilarating. As a recent graduate, getting so much hands on experience into something of this scale was really motivating as I take my first steps into the world of PR Comms.

As a sports fanatic, I was thrilled when I was added to the Strathmore team. Strathmore, as part of their Do More sponsorship of sport, are the official water supplier for Scottish rugby, swimming and gymnastics. And with so many big events this year like the Gymnastics World Championships and the Rugby World Cup, I can’t wait to get a taste of the action.

The idea of the shirt was born in one of our ‘Stripey Thinking’ sessions in early August where the best creative ideas are born at Stripe HQ. To wish the team good luck ahead of their Rugby World Cup journey we decided to create a massive rugby shirt which fans could sign before the Scotland v Italy summer test match. The journey began when we had to find a supplier who could create our 8m x 5.5m shirt fit for a giant. Following a week or so of planning, designing and discussion, we were finally given the green light to crack on with production and planning the in ground activity. This involved ordering staging, a marquee, branded signage and astro-turf.

The shirt was delivered to Murrayfield the day before our photo call with Scotland internationals Blair Cowan, Fraser Brown and David Denton. This was one of numerous times during this project I was lucky enough to stand inside an empty Murrayfield stadium. The buzz the players must get when the stadium is full must be out of this world! The photo call was a success and the weather was perfect. We got some great shots and video footage of the players.

It was quite surreal getting to interview David Denton and Fraser Brown in the stands, asking them about their active lifestyles and preparations ahead of their upcoming matches. I think this is why I enjoy PR, because it has a good balance between media relations, event management and journalism – plus the perks of running around Scotland’s national rugby stadium.

Match-day came around quickly and following the set-up of our fan zone, we started welcoming in the fans to sign our shirt. Over 750 signatures and 25 Sharpie pens later, the mission was complete. A big pat on the back for Team Strathmore and everyone else involved, which was made even better by Scotland triumphing against Italy 48-7 in a record-breaking win – boom!

I think the biggest learning experience since arriving at Stripe has been realising all the different components that go into making a project firstly happen, and secondly, a success. With strong teamwork and a genuine passion for the brand we managed to put the pieces of the jig-saw together and I can’t wait to Do More with this account going forward.