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The soft power of Arab women’s football: changing perceptions and building legitimacy through social media
journal contributionposted on 16.08.2021, 13:06 by Hussa Al-KhalifaHussa Al-Khalifa, Anna FarelloAnna Farello
Soft power refers to the ability to advance interests through persuasion without coercion and has often been described in its capacity to aid foreign policy. Within the sports realm, sport diplomacy has emerged as a way of strengthening diplomatic, social, and political relations. The extended understanding of the soft power of sport goes beyond the often-cited practice of hosting mega-events, to wider strategies, employed internationally or domestically, to achieve various objectives. This study examines the capacity of Arab women’s football committees to engage soft power to challenge local and international perceptions of gender norms and gain acceptance in the region. The utilisation of social media as a tool for generating soft power by women’s football committees, in the Arabian Gulf region, is explored. A one-year analysis of the Instagram activities of these accounts indicates two overarching aims: changing perceptions and building legitimacy. These aims are targeted through four identified mechanisms of sport social media soft power: Campaign Involvement; Community Engagement; Technical Displays and Event Hosting; and Enhancing Formal Ties. The article examines each mechanism as utilised within the social media accounts. A choice was made to focus on Instagram, given the application’s popularity in the region. The contribution of this study is two-fold. First, it expands the understanding of sport as a means of exercising soft power by presenting social media as an instrument for sport diplomacy in the Arab world. Second, it analyses the specific use of women’s success in sport to shape public perception and achieve international recognition.
- Loughborough University London