Stories of the beautiful (and sometimes ugly) game told at Qatar exhibition for World Cup

From Pele's wizardry to global discrimination, football has played a part in the lives of billions. Now, a Doha museum explores how

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It's known globally as the beautiful game. Now, the stories behind football, warts and all, are being explored in a new exhibition at Doha's Media Majlis.

Ahead of the start of the Fifa World Cup Qatar in less than two weeks, the exhibition Is it a Beautiful Game? delves into the social and political nuances surrounding one of the world’s most popular sports and its central relationship with the media. It is on display at the museum, which is dedicated to journalism, communication and media, at Northwestern University in Qatar.

The exhibition starts by examining the phrase “the beautiful game”, which was popularised by the likes of Brazilian legend Pele and English commentator Stuart Hall, who used the phrase as far back as 1958. The expression helped to frame football’s global appeal as a game that brings people together.

However, it also looks into football’s tumultuous history of discrimination, corruption, politics and unfairness.

“Whether you are a lover or a hater, football has somehow played a part in our lives,” Jack Thomas Taylor, a curator at the Media Majlis, tells The National.

“I wanted to curate an exhibition that included content that would allow for a deeper conversation around the role of football and its impact on our lives.”

Taylor explains that football is an accessible and relatable means to enable conversations around global issues of concern such as discrimination, racism and equality. It is also a game at the intersection of many cultural experiences

“Football is also more than just a game,” Taylor says.

“The 90 minutes on the pitch is just the beginning of a great cascade of writing, talking, arguing and watching, making football mean something. The repetitive narrative of players who have overcome losses and multiple odds to become the best in the league stimulates fandom and, of course, a multibillion-dollar industry.”

More than 280 pieces of physical and digital content are included in the exhibition, providing an expansive and multifaceted overview of the sport in the global collective culture.

Objects include a fan-made jersey of Captain Tsubasa, the Japanese animated series or Captain Majed as it is known in the Arabic version; a newspaper article about Munira Ramadan, one of the first female and Arab football referees; along with a collection of photographs from the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut showcasing the region’s sporting heritage.

Interactive installations give audiences the chance to discover the complex ways media and football are linked on and off the pitch. Spread across 56 screens is a football match told through numbers.

“Today the game is all about data which then drives decisions,” Taylor says.

“From managers in the locker room to commentators in the newsroom and fans on social media, match statistics, player performance and historical results are used to analyse every action, both on and off the pitch. Based on this data, players are bought, sold, loved or reviled.”

This installation visualises a football match derived from anonymous data and focuses on two players who compete for the status of Man of the Match. Audiences can examine the game from the perspectives of the fan, the player and the media.

The exhibition is also accompanied by several public programmes including discussions on inequality and discrimination, greenwashing in sports, a question about how real eSports is and a special screening of The Workers Cup, a documentary about the lives of the people who build infrastructures for the world’s biggest sporting tournament.

“We want our audiences never to watch football the same way again,” Taylor says.

“The football and media industries are worth billions of dollars, and it cannot just be underplayed as entertainment and fun — it’s a serious game.”

Is it a Beautiful Game? is free to attend and runs until November 12

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